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. 

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