Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Fab Five: Week XII

Last Week: 2-2-1
Overall: 24-29-2
Last week was a perfect example of why they call it gambling. I was staring down the barrel of a 4-1 week, but Tulane not defending a Hail Mary and Coastal returning an interception for a touchdown with the game in hand gave me a push and a loss respectively. Oh well, only a few more weeks left. Hopefully we catch some breaks this week. 

Iowa State -1 Texas
Since arriving in Ames prior to the 2016 season, Matt Campbell has done the unthinkable at Iowa State. He has guided the Cyclones to four consecutive winning conference records and has them in position to qualify for the Big 12 Championship Game for the first time. The Cyclones are 24-19 in Big 12 play under Campbell and the only two teams the Cyclones have failed to beat multiple times are Oklahoma State and Texas. All five games against the Cowboys have been decided by a touchdown or less, but Texas has proven to be more vexing. The Longhorns have beaten the Cyclones three times with Campbell as coach and each of those victories came by at least ten points. In fact, the Longhorns nearly won in Ames last season, but a field goal on the final play gave Iowa State the victory. Despite Iowa State's struggles in this series (the Cyclones have only won once in Austin), I feel like they are being undervalued by the betting market. If you look at how both teams have performed in Big 12 play this season, Iowa State has dominated on a per play basis, averaging about 1.70 more yards per play than they have allowed. Meanwhile, despite their 4-2 league record, Texas is slightly underwater on a per play basis. They have not had the benefit of playing Kansas to pad their statistics, but if you replaced the burnt orange jerseys with purple or green, Iowa State would be laying at least a field goal. It's always scary betting against Tom Herman as an underdog, but I'll take Iowa State to win outright at Texas and clinch a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. 

Vanderbilt +14 Missouri
I know they might finish 0-10, or some other record starting with '0', but Vanderbilt has played better the past few weeks. In their first four conference games, the Commodores were outgained by more than three yards per play (7.50 to 4.41) after becoming the first SEC team to do that last season. They were outscored in those four games by nearly 27 points per game. However, over their past three games, the Commodores have only been outgained by about one yard per play (6.64 to 5.61). Those aren't great numbers, but they represent massive improvement and the scoreboard has also been much closer as well. The Commodores have lost those three by about ten points per game. Give credit to Derek Mason for not losing his team despite a horrible start in unenviable circumstances. I have been on the Commodores in two of those games when they covered as double digit road underdogs at Mississippi State and Kentucky. That brought their Against the Spread (ATS) record in such conference games to 13-5 under Mason. I see no reason to back off of them in this spot. While the Commodores were originally slated to host in-state rival Tennessee, they will now hit the road to face Missouri. Those Tigers are getting a lot of love from the betting market despite scoring seventeen points against a South Carolina team that came in having allowed 159 points in its past three games (and also playing under an interim coach). If you can't score, its hard to cover big numbers and outside of their showing against LSU, Missouri has not scored more than twenty points in any other game this season. Vanderbilt has been a double digit underdog against Missouri three times since the Tigers joined the SEC. They have covered each time and won outright last year (last conference game they won). If Vandy is going to score a victory this season, I think it comes on Saturday. And we might even get to see something historic

Navy +14 Memphis
A month ago, Navy was in the midst of a ten game conference win streak, having opened 2020 with three conference victories after winning their final seven in 2019. Unfortunately, games against Temple and East Carolina gave way to Houston and SMU and the Midshipmen have now lost back-to-back conference games. Can the Midshipmen right the ship (apologies) against a Memphis team that despite a 5-2 record has been a bit of a disappointment in 2020? If by right the ship (again, apologies), you mean stay within two touchdowns, I think the answer is 'Yes'. Navy is 18-4 straight up in home conference games since joining the AAC in 2015, including a pair of victories against Memphis as a betting underdog. In fact, Navy is 4-1 both straight up and ATS against Memphis since joining the AAC, despite being an underdog in each game. This not one of Ken Niumatalolo's better Navy teams (take a look at that ugly point differential), but they are still dangerous especially against a bad defense. And make no mistake, this is a bad Memphis defense. The Tigers rank last in the AAC in yards allowed per play in conference games. In fact, their defense is the primary reason they have failed to cover all three times they have been double digit favorites in 2020. The Tigers opened the season with a solid defensive showing against a quality Arkansas State offense when they allowed 24 points, but failed to cover as eighteen point favorites. However, the defense did not play nearly as well in their other two games as large favorites. Against Temple, a team with one win this season, the Tigers allowed 29 points to a team that is averaging about twenty points per game. And against South Florida, a team with zero FBS wins this season, the Tigers allowed 33 points to another team that scores about twenty per game. The Tigers will not struggle to score against Navy, but I don't think their defense will offer much resistance either. Take the Midshipmen to cover this large number. 

Kansas State +5 Baylor
Kansas State has been one of the most profitable underdogs over the past decade or so. Under Bill Snyder and Chris Klieman, the Wildcats have routinely not only covered, but won outright as underdogs. Despite that solid track record, I was a little hesitant to back the Wildcats in this spot as they appear to be leaking oil. After a 4-1 start, they have dropped three straight with a pair of blowout losses on the road to West Virginia and Iowa State. The most recent loss to the Cyclones was particularly demoralizing as it represented the largest margin of defeat in Klieman's illustrious career (even dating back to his time at Division III Loras). While the forty five point loss is a stain on their ledger, the Wildcats can take solace that they lost to one of the best teams in the Big 12. By contrast, their opponent on Saturday is not one of the best teams in the Big 12. After playing in the Big 12 Championship Game last season, Baylor has struggled under first year head coach Dave Aranda. After opening with a dominant win against Kansas, the Bears have dropped five in a row, though three of the losses have come by a touchdown or less. Baylor should probably be favored in this game, but I think this line is a bit of an overreaction to how poorly Kansas State played against Iowa State. The Cyclones were playing for a shot at the Big 12 title last week, while Baylor is merely playing out the string. Take Kansas State to get back on track and hang tough with the Bears. 

Florida State +9 Virginia
If a young Mike Norvell had a acquired a cursed monkey's paw and wished to one day be head coach of Florida State, you have to imagine his first season is how that wish would have played out. The Seminoles are 2-6 with just a single victory against an FBS opponent and five losses by double digits. The team (at least the administration) was even shamed by a tone deaf Dabo Swinney for refusing to play Clemson last week after the Tigers played fast and loose with the COVID protocols and brought a symptomatic player (who would eventually test positive) on the trip to Tallahassee. To show you how bad things are, take a look at the following table. It lists all previous instances of the Seminoles being a home underdog since 2000. 
This marks just the eleventh time that has happened, but the sixth time in the past five seasons. Florida State has not performed well in the role, posting a 2-8 straight up record and a slightly better 4-6 ATS mark. However, go back and look at the quality of teams that were favored against them. All of the teams came in ranked in the AP Poll, with seven ranked in the top ten. In addition, five of the teams (those highlighted in darker blue) would go on to win the national title the year they were favored against the Seminoles. Virginia is not in that class. While the Cavaliers have won three straight to even their record at 4-4, all those victories came at home and their wins against North Carolina and Louisville came despite allowing over 1000 combined yards at more than eight yards per play. In addition, this is the most points Virginia has been favored by away from Charlottesville under Bronco Mendenhall. This is Virginia's 25th true road game under Mendenhall and marks just the fifth time they have been favored in a road contest. In the previous four games, the most they were favored by was a measly four points. They lost that game for what its worth. This is uncharted territory for both Florida State and Virginia and I believe the controversy surrounding their cancellation can galvanize Florida State into a strong showing at home. Take the Seminoles to cover and don't be shocked if they pull an outright upset. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Fab Five: Week XI

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 22-27-1
We were able to grind out another winning week. That's two in a row. Unfortunately, there are probably not enough weeks left in the season to get back to .500. But we shall make a valiant attempt nonetheless.

Tulane +6 Tulsa
Unless you are a legend, and even then, not always, college football coaches that go into a tailspin don't often get the chance to pull out of the spin. Instead, the school usually blows the plane up and hires a new pilot to fly the smoldering wreckage (metaphor may need a little work). However, Philip Montgomery appears to have done just that. After winning ten games in 2016 and appearing on his way to an eventual Power Five job, Montgomery's next three Tulsa teams went 9-27, including just 5-19 in AAC play. Widely assumed to be a dead man coaching in 2020, Tulsa has opened conference play with four consecutive wins after giving Oklahoma State all they could handle in Stillwater. In the process, Tulsa has set themselves in prime position to face Cincinnati in the AAC Championship Game (assuming college football survives for another month). Half of Tulsa's conference victories have come against teams that were ranked at the time they played the Golden Hurricane (UCF and SMU) and now the Golden Hurricane have entered the AP Poll for the first time since 2010. Outside of Cincinnati, the Golden Hurricane have played the best defense in the AAC, holding the explosive offenses in Orlando and Dallas to well below their scoring averages in their upset wins. Now Tulsa must contend with a Tulane team that is cresting at the right time. The Wave have won three in a row and have scored at least 30 points in seven consecutive games I think Tulsa is in a bit of a flat spot off that upset win against SMU and the Golden Hurricane are just 3-5 Against the Spread (ATS) as a conference home favorite under Montgomery. Take the Green Wave to keep this one close. 

Georgia Southern +4 Army
If you are an habitual viewer of college football who likes to post up (or down) on the couch and consume a good twelve hours on a fall Saturday, you know that games typically extend past their allocated three and half hour window. Those 3:30 kicks on an ESPN affiliate usually end up starting on the ESPN app or some other alternate network because the games just last so damn long. CBS Sports Network may not have that problem this Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for Noon and I would place a wager this one wraps before San Diego State and Nevada kick at 3:30 (that game is now getting a national broadcast on CBS). If I can evoke a baseball analogy, these two triple option teams are like a vintage Greg Maddux start on The Superstation. Barring weather delays or overtime, this game should fly by. And since both teams are intimately familiar with the offense the other runs, I expect a close game as well. While they have enjoyed success under Jeff Monken, (who previously coached at Georgia Southern) Army has not performed well as a home favorite, posting an 8-11 ATS mark in the role against FBS teams. In addition, most of their covers have come against the dregs of FBS. They have only covered twice against teams that finished with non-losing records. Both those covers came in 2018, when Army had one of their best seasons in recent memory. And the teams they covered against were far from great. Liberty (6-6) was in their first season as an FBS program and Hawaii (8-6) was playing a Noon game on the east coast. Georgia Southern is a quality program that has done nothing but play close games in 2020 (six of eight decided by a touchdown or less) and both of their losses on the year have come to teams currently in the AP Poll (Coastal and Louisiana-Lafayette). Army has six wins, but due to the nature of their pandemic altered schedule, three have come against barnstorming FCS opponents, and two others have come against the worst FBS has to offer in 2020 (Louisiana-Monroe and Middle Tennessee State). I expect a tight game and an outright Georgia Southern win. 

Appalachian State +5 Coastal Carolina
After three rather mediocre years as an FBS program, Coastal Carolina has surged in 2020. The Chanticleers are 7-0 and ranked fifteenth in the latest AP Poll, the highest position ever for a Sun Belt program. And yet, despite their fantastic start, a loss to the Mountaineers would practically eliminate them from title contention in the Sun Belt. While the Mountaineers have dropped a game in 2020, it was a non-conference clash with another unbeaten Group of Five team. That loss seems to have thrown the betting public off the scent of the Mountaineers. Consider this: In their first season as an FBS program, Appalachian State was an underdog against Sun Belt opponents five times. In the five and a half seasons since, this will mark just the third time the Mountaineers have entered a game against a conference opponent getting points. While I expected Coastal to be a slight favorite, I think the line is a little high because Appalachian State struggled at home last week against Georgia State in a potential lookahead spot. The Mountaineers needed a fourth quarter comeback to edge the Panthers 17-13. The defense played well, as it has since midway through the 2014 season, but the offense struggled and the backup quarterback had to lead the winning touchdown drive after Zac Thomas (different guy) went down with an injury. Thomas is probably going to play on Saturday, so you may be catching a few points of value if this line is a reaction to his injury. In addition, with the recent firing a hundred miles or so inland, the speculation surrounding Jamey Chadwell's future at Coastal Carolina may impact the team. The Chanticleers are a great story, but Appalachian State is the proven brand in the Sun Belt and when they are catching points, you have to take them. 

South Alabama +3.5 Georgia State
Earlier, I mentioned Appalachian State might be getting a few extra points in the betting market because they struggled with Georgia State last week. I think something similar is going on in this game. Georgia State is probably a little overvalued by the market because they hung tough with the Mountaineers last week. However, they are not the type of team you want to be laying points with on the road. Under Shawn Elliott, the Panthers have been conference road favorites four previous times (1-2-1 ATS in those games), so this is not a position they are used to. In addition, after winning four conference road games in Elliott's first season (2017), the Panthers are just 2-9 straight up in their last eleven conference road games. On the other sideline, the Jaguars are playing their first home game in nearly a month after three consecutive road trips against the better teams in the Sun Belt (Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina, and Louisiana-Lafayette). While they have struggled in Sun Belt play under Steve Campbell, posting a 5-16 conference record under his watch, they are actually a respectable 5-5 at home. I think they continue their respectable home performance with an outright upset against Georgia State. 

Mississippi State +25 Georgia
Mississippi State is the poster child for not making bold proclamations after one game. Remember back when the SEC was playing a full slate of games on Saturdays? It wasn't that long ago. And on that opening Saturday in late September, Mississippi State stunned the defending national champs, putting up 44 points on LSU in Baton Rouge. Mike Leach let you know there was plenty of room on the bandwagon, and with Arkansas and Kentucky up next, it looked like the Bulldogs would be hosting Texas A&M in mid-October with a top ten ranking on the line. But then reality got in the way. Since scoring 44 points against LSU, the Bulldogs have scored a total of 54 points in their last five games. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Bulldogs have lost four of those games, with the lone victory coming against one of the worst SEC teams in recent memory. The passing offense, a specialty of Mike Leach, has averaged 4.53 yards per attempt since beating LSU and an even uglier 6.61 yards per completion. The SEC average for both is 7.83 yards per pass attempt and 12.05 yards per completion meaning Mississippi State's average completion since the LSU game is below the SEC average for a passing attempt! And yet here I am recommending you wager your hard earned money on the Bulldogs from Starkville instead of the Bulldogs from Athens. Why would I do such a thing? For starters, Mississippi State's defense has actually been pretty good this season. The Bulldogs rank third in the SEC in yards allowed per play and while their points per game numbers are mediocre (sixth in the SEC), keep in mind those scoring numbers are influenced by four defensive touchdowns opposing teams have scored via interception returns. In addition, the Bulldogs have been put in precarious positions a few other times, as they have allowed three touchdown 'drives' of less than ten yards. Obviously, there is a chance those turnovers continue in this game. One can envision a scenario where Georgia's defense sets them up with short fields or scores a touchdown or two on their own. However, turnovers tend to be pretty random, so while a Georgia blowout of epic proportions is certainly a possibility, that is probably a tail event. I also understand wanting to fade Mississippi State based on motivation. Running back Kylin Hill has opted out and Leach may be inching closer to a full on mutiny, but I would argue motivation may be an issue on the other sideline as well. Barring an epic collapse at Florida, Georgia's streak of three consecutive SEC East titles will come to an end. How motivated will Georgia be to stick it to an SEC West team they have played just five times this century? I don't think Georgia is in any real danger of losing this game, but I don't think they roll over Mississippi State either. This has the look and feel of a double digit win where the defense looks great and the offense disappoints. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Fab Five: Week X


Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 19-25-1
The yearly numbers are still bad, but we got back on track last week. And the week could have been even better if Matt Wells didn't try to play some 5D Inter-dimensional Chess. A Texas Tech grad student should analyze his decision making in that game in their dissertation on the Dunning-Kruger Effect

Vanderbilt +17 Kentucky
If things continue unabated in SEC country, this could be the only league game that gets played on Saturday. I, for one, am all for moving this one to the primetime slot following The Masters. We'll see if Greg Sankey is an avid reader of this blog. But I digress. At 2-4 on the season, Kentucky needs a win against the Commodores to have any shot of finishing with a fifth consecutive winning season. After Vanderbilt, the Wildcats will make consecutive road trips to take on the likely participants in this season's SEC Championship Game, Alabama and Florida, so 4-6 looks like a best case scenario. Meanwhile, the Vanderbilt would be ecstatic with a 4-6 campaign. The Commodores have lost twelve of their past thirteen conference games, with just two of those defeats (including last weeks) coming by single digits. The Commodores outplayed Mississippi State last week, but lost thanks to five ugly turnovers. Those turnovers set Mississippi State up in prime position and the Bulldogs scored 24 points despite gaining just 204 total yards and averaging under four yards per play. Vanderbilt has had a lot of turnover issues in 2020 (-8 margin through five games), so there is the potential this game could get away from them. However, Kentucky has not exactly lit up many scoreboards this season. The Wildcats have scored just thirteen offensive touchdowns in six games, and that number drops to seven in five games if we remove their showing against the putrid Ole Miss defense. Kentucky has had a hard time moving the ball and scoring in 2020, which obviously makes it hard to cover large numbers. In addition, Kentucky has been a double digit home favorite in SEC play two other times under Mark Stoops. It will probably not surprise you that their opponent in both those games was Vanderbilt. Incidentally, the Wildcats won both games, but failed to cover in either. Vanderbilt showed some signs of life last week, and are now 12-5 Against the Spread (ATS) as a double digit road underdog in conference play under Derek Mason. I expect Vanderbilt to lose for the thirteenth time in their last fourteen conference games, but they will make Kentucky work for this victory. 

Michigan State +7.5 Indiana
Are we really ready to love in a world where Indiana is ranked in the top ten? Yes, if you haven't been keeping up with the AP Poll, the Hoosiers are currently ranked tenth in the nation, their highest ranking since 1969 (when they actually finished 4-6). We'll blame Woodstock for their lofty preseason ranking that year. Is Indiana really the tenth best team in the country? Probably not, but they are unbeaten, and with Ohio State having an unscheduled bye this weekend, a victory in East Lansing would give them a half game lead on the Buckeyes in the sprint to the Big 10 Championship Game. This game goes to show you how much turnovers matter. Through three games, the Hoosiers are underwater in yards per play, but with a +6 turnover margin are 3-0. Meanwhile, Michigan State has basically broken even on a per play basis, but are 1-2 thanks to a -7 turnover margin. The Hoosiers may well win the turnover battle on Saturday, but these things tend to regress to the mean in the long run. If the ball is not bouncing their way, I would expect a tight game, especially considering Indiana has not beaten Michigan State by enough to cover this number since 2006. Indiana has been a tough team under Tom Allen, but they have not been great as road favorites, posting a 2-5 ATS mark as a favorite in conference road games. Take Sparty to keep this one close. 

Houston -14 South Florida
Remember when South Florida was good, or at least mediocre? I'm not even talking about going all the way back to 2007 when they got to number two in the AP Poll. No, just two short years ago, they were 7-0 and in the top 25. The Bulls won nine of their first eleven AAC games under Charlie Strong in the 2016 and 2017 seasons before the bottom fell out. Since that 9-2 start, the Bulls are just 2-16 in their past eighteen conference games, including 0-5 under first year head coach Jeff Scott. And one of those two wins came against Connecticut, so maybe we should exclude that one. However, they almost won their first conference game of the season last week at Memphis before the Tigers pulled off a fourth quarter rally to win by a point. Was that game a sign of progress for South Florida or merely an aberration? I'm leaning toward aberration. Despite scoring 33 points against the porous Memphis defense, the Bulls gained just 330 yards and averaged only 5.3 yards per play. They benefited from a pick-six and three failed fourth down conversions by the Tigers. Their offense did not suddenly rouse from its slumber and their defense did not hold the Tigers down. Memphis gained 535 of total offense and had 24 first downs. If Memphis converts a few of those fourth downs or doesn't throw that pick-six, the result is a much more comfortable win and a likely point spread of closer to seventeen points in this game. Houston is far from the best team the AAC has this season, but two of their three losses have come to top ten teams (BYU and Cincinnati) and the other to a pretty good team in Florida (UCF). I expect them to take out their frustrations on a South Florida team that is not nearly as good as they looked last week.  

Southern Miss +6 Western Kentucky
Southern Miss has had a weird (even by 2020 standards) season. Western Kentucky has simply had a bad season. After going 9-4 and fielding one of the best mid-major defenses under first year head coach Tyson Helton in 2019, the Hilltoppers have won just two of their first eight games in 2020 and boast one of the worst offenses in FBS. After scoring a respectable 65 points in their first three games, the Hilltoppers have scored bad opening Blackjack hands over their past five: 14, 14, 13, 10, and 6 (I realize 10 is a pretty good number to open with, but you get the idea). In fairness, the Hilltoppers have played a Power Five opponent (Louisville) and three teams currently ranked in the AP Poll (BYU, Liberty, and Marshall) in half their games, but even if we generously exclude those four, the Hilltoppers are still averaging a modest thirteen points per game. As I mentioned in my rationale for fading Kentucky, its hard to cover as a favorite if you can't score. I can see why the Hilltoppers are favored in this game as Southern Miss has had to deal with massive coaching turnover and are coming off a game where they needed a fourth quarter comeback to beat an FCS opponent. However, Southern Miss was without their starting quarterback in that game (he is expected back for this one) and Western Kentucky also needed a fourth quarter comeback to escape a barnstorming FCS opponent a few weeks ago. Southern Miss is not good, but they have at least shown signs of life on offense. Take them to cover and win outright. 

Louisville +3.5 Virginia
Full disclosure, I wrote this game up last week before it was postponed and my rationale has not changed.
The Cardinals and Cavaliers went a combined 11-5 in ACC play last season with Virginia winning their division for the first time in school history and Louisville excising the last of the Bobby Petrino cancer that had metastasized in 2018. However, things have not gone quite as well in 2020. The two are a combined 3-9 in conference play this season and need a strong finish to enter bowl season with a non-losing record. Virginia is favored in this game thanks to their upset home win against a ranked North Carolina team over Halloween weekend. However, when you dig a little deeper into that box score, you can see the win was not quite as impressive as it appeared on the scoreboard. The Cavaliers beat the Tar Heels despite allowing nearly nine yards per play to the Sam Howell led offense. That defensive showing may not portend good things against an explosive Louisville offense. The Cardinals have really gotten their offense rolling the past two weeks, scoring 83 points and gaining over 1100 yards against Florida State and Virginia Tech. Granted, the Seminoles and Hokies have two of the poorer defenses in the ACC, but then again, so does Virginia. I think (and 247 agrees) Louisville is the more talented team and I expect them to win outright. 

Friday, November 06, 2020

The Fab Five: Week IX

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 16-23-1
Well, thankfully the month of October is over. Perhaps with the end of our American carnage, I can get back on track. Also, I apologize for the tardiness of this post. A few of the games I had chosen (Louisville/Virginia and Air Force/Army) ended up being canceled, as did a few of the replacement games (Charlotte/Middle Tennessee and Washington/Cal), so I had to scramble to find some picks. 

Michigan -3 Indiana
If you were looking to bet on Michigan, I suppose the best thing that could have happened to the Wolverines would have been to lose at home to Michigan State. Unless of course, you happened to be betting on the Wolverines last week. But what's done is done and all we can do is move forward. And I think moving forward, you are in a great position to buy low on Michigan. Thanks to the great point spread database at The Goldsheet, I was able to peruse all of Michigan's betting lines against Indiana dating back to 1993. In the 19 games the Wolverines and Hoosiers have played in that span, Michigan has been a double digit favorite 15 times, and has been favored by at least a touchdown in each game. The ATS results have basically been coin flips, with Indiana covering ten times and Michigan covering nine. However, the smallest margin of victory in that span is three points, which happened twice. I know Michigan is always enduring an existential crisis under Jim Harbaugh, but I think this is a good spot for them. Indiana beat Penn State in a game they probably didn't deserve to be competitive in and then they took care of what is probably still a pretty bad Rutgers team. If there were a preseason line for this game, I expect it would have been Michigan by at least a touchdown. I'm not ready to say that much has changed yet. Take the Wolverine to cover this small number. 

West Virginia +6.5 Texas
Think the AP Poll might have a bias toward Texas? The Longhorns practically guaranteed the Big 12 will not send a team to the College Football Playoff by upsetting Oklahoma State on Saturday, but they were quite fortunate to win. They were outgained by nearly 250 yards and averaged nearly two fewer yards per play than the Cowboys. The Longhorns won the turnover margin by four and returned a kickoff for a touchdown and still needed overtime to get out of Stillwater with a victory. The Longhorns made the plays, so give them credit, but outside of that victory, what has Texas done to earn an AP ranking this year? Lose at home to TCU? Beat UTEP? Anyway, if there is any justice in the universe (unclear at the moment), the Longhorns will fall out of the polls after losing to West Virginia this week. The Mountaineers actually have the best yards per play defense in the Big 12, slightly besting Oklahoma State. Meanwhile Texas is actually underwater in terms of net yards per play (yards per play minus yards per play allowed). So, you could craft a decent argument that West Virginia is the superior team. And that is before we get to how Texas has performed as a home favorite under Tom Herman. The Longhorns are just 3-9 ATS as a home favorite in Big 12 play under Tom Herman. This is exactly the type of game the Longhorns typically (almost) lose under Herman. While they are 3-9 ATS in this spot, they are actually 9-3 straight up, so the more likely result is a narrow Texas win that bumps them into the top ten. 

Texas Tech +8.5 TCU
The Red Raiders were one of my many misses last week, but I am back on them again. However, this is more about my skepticism regarding Gary Patterson and TCU than any strong feelings I have for Texas Tech. Case in point, the Horned Frogs have been horrendous as a favorite in Big 12 games since joining the conference. Including 2020, TCU is 14-31 ATS in the favorite role. They have been a little better at home (10-16 ATS) versus on the road (4-15 ATS), but that is mostly buoyed by their strong showing in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Outside of those two years when they were 7-1 ATS as a home favorite, they are just 3-15 ATS laying points at home. In addition, the Horned Frogs have struggled with the Red Raiders in particular since joining the Big 12. They are 4-4 straight up, but just 2-6 ATS, including 1-3 straight up and ATS in Fort Worth. If you are backing Gary Patterson, you are hemorrhaging cash. I know they are an ugly dog, especially after their showing last week, but the Red Raiders are the play in this game. 

Pittsburgh +2 Florida State
I get why the betting market is down on Pitt. The Panthers have lost four in a row, their starting quarterback is out for this game (and maybe longer), and they were just bludgeoned 45-3 by Notre Dame. However, I still find it hard to believe that Florida State is favored. Remember, Florida State's last performance also left a lot to be desired. In fact, Florida State has played all of one good half against FBS competition this season. Their first half performance against North Carolina may have raised expectations to an unreasonable level. Outside of that half against the Tar Heels, the Seminoles have been outscored by 114 points in their other 18 quarters against FBS competition. I did the math. That is a little less than a touchdown per quarter. Even when factoring in that quality first half, the Seminoles have the worst per play defense in the ACC. I know Pitt has had trouble moving the ball this season, but you couldn't ask for a better defense to go against coming off a bye than the one in Tallahassee. Also keep in mind, while Pitt has struggled offensively, their defense has been one of the best in the nation in terms of havoc. The Panthers lead the nation in tackles for loss per game (over eleven per game), so I expect them to become quite familiar with Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis. Travis is a dangerous runner (leads the team in rushing), so I expect him to make a few big plays with his feet, but his passing is not currently up to snuff (completing just half his passes at the moment) for the Seminoles to have extended drives. In addition, this is where the Panthers have thrived under Pat Narduzzi. As a road underdog in ACC play, the Panthers are 11-4 ATS with seven outright wins. The wrong team is favored in this game. Take the Panthers to win outright. 

Vanderbilt +19.5 Mississippi State
Would you classify Derek Mason's tenure at Vanderbilt as a success? This is not intended as an insult (mostly because Derek Mason could certainly whoop my ass), but a legitimate thought experiment. Since the 1950's, Mason has both the second longest tenure and second most wins at Vanderbilt (behind Steve Martin impersonator and occasional football coach Bobby Johnson). Mason has never had a winning season during his time in Nashville, but he did guide the Commodores to two bowls in three seasons before the wheels came off in 2019. Any effort to reattach them in 2020 has not been successful. Since the start of the 2019 season, Vanderbilt has gone 1-11 in SEC play, losing by an average of over 24 points per game (and they still have Florida and Georgia left on the schedule this season). An 0-10 campaign is on the table and I would assume the potential for a coaching change, even in the midst of this pandemic. However, before you go throwing your hard earned money behind Mike Leach, take note that Vanderbilt has actually been somewhat successful ATS as a big road underdog under Mason. Its an interesting contrast in the betting market. Vanderbilt appears to be overvalued as a double digit home underdog in SEC play (5-9 ATS), but undervalued in the same position on the road where they are 11-5 ATS as a double digit road underdog against SEC foes. The Commodores have been bad on both sides of the ball this season, but I like their chances against a Mississippi State team that has not played well on offense since their opening salvo against LSU. Since torching the putrid LSU defense in the opener, the Bulldogs have scored 14, 2, 14, and 0 points respectively. In fact, they have actually scored just three offensive touchdowns in those four games. I expect their offense to at least look competent against Vanderbilt, but I don't think they can score enough to cover this large number.