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. 

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