Thursday, December 03, 2020

The Fab Five: Week XIII

Last Week: 3-1*
Overall: 27-30-2
We closed November strong with our best week of the year. Of course, part of that is due to one of the games being canceled. To make up for it, we have six picks for you this week. Enjoy.
*Please note this post has been updated. The Buffalo at Ohio game was canceled on Friday, so it has been replaced with another pick (free of charge of course). 

Auburn +7 Texas A&M
Is the College Football Playoff Committee really going to put Texas A&M in the field if one of the top four stumble (or don't play enough games)? I know they have an impressive home win against Florida, but outside of the Gators, what is their best win? LSU last week or perhaps Arkansas on Halloween? If the Aggies do happen to win out and one of the current top four don't make it in, I would hope the committee would err on the side of an unbeaten Group of Five team like Cincinnati or BYU. The Aggies have already proven they don't belong on the same field as Alabama. Let some other team have the opportunity. Anyway, Auburn could do us all a big favor and wreck the Aggies playoff dreams by winning on Saturday. Like Texas A&M, the Tigers were not competitive against what could be Nick Saban's best Alabama team. Now they return to the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare, where they have done well as an underdog under Gus Malzahn. The Tigers are 8-3 Against the Spread (ATS) as a home underdog, with six outright wins. And the underdog has performed well in this series overall. In the eight meetings since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, the underdog has gone 6-1-1 ATS and won five games outright. Texas A&M is the fifth best team according to the CFB Playoff rankings, but they should not be laying a touchdown on the road.  

Boston College +6 Virginia
While it appears Boston College will once again finish with either six or seven wins when the 2020 season is in the books (would be the eighth time they have done that in the past eleven seasons), the Eagles have exceeded expectations under first year head coach Jeff Hafley. All four teams to beat the Eagles were ranked at the time of the game, and two stand a pretty good chance at getting into the College Football Playoff. The Eagles have done well in the underdog role this season, covering four times in six games, while winning two of the games outright. I expect them to perform well against a Virginia team that has won three in a row, but is fraudulent. The Cavaliers have been outgained by more than a full yard per play by ACC opponents and have the worst per play defense in the ACC outside of Tallahassee. This game is a toss up and with Boston College catching nearly a touchdown, they are the play. 

Indiana +14 Wisconsin
This line is probably an overreaction to the injury Michael Penix suffered last week that will cause him to miss the rest of the season. Penix was a solid quarterback for the Hoosiers, but he was not a Heisman contender nor the solitary driving force behind Indiana's success. His backup, Jack Tuttle, while inexperienced, was a good recruit coming out of high school. And speaking of inexperienced quarterbacks, this will mark Graham Mertz fourth start for Wisconsin. Mertz dazzled in his first start against Illinois (again, I repeat, Illinois), but struggled in his next two starts against Michigan and Northwestern. Indiana has a pretty good defense, so I don't expect Mertz to dominate. The Hoosiers are middle of the pack in yards allowed per play (seventh in the Big 10), but if we take out the Ohio State game, where they allowed over 600 yards and 42 points, those numbers look a lot better. Against their other five Big 10 opponents, they are allowing under five yards per play and about eighteen points per game. Wisconsin is one of the better Big 10 programs, but they are not in Ohio State's class. The Hoosiers should be able to make this a low-scoring affair and do enough on offense to cover this two touchdown spread. 

Florida Atlantic +2 Georgia Southern
Many college football fans, myself included, expected Florida Atlantic to take a step back in 2020 after losing head coach Lane Kiffin and replacing him with failed Florida State coach Willie Taggart. The Owls didn't play their first game until early October and then went three weeks before playing their second. They lost that second game to Marshall and it seemed like the Owls were destined to finish in the middle of the pack in Conference USA. However, since that loss to Marshall, the Owls have won four in a row and have a chance to finish the abbreviated regular season with just one loss. And with the struggles continuing in Tallahassee, it makes you think maybe Willie wasn't the problem. The Owls are led by a stout defense, coordinated by Jim Leavitt, who also worked for Willie in his lone season coaching the Oregon Ducks. The Owls have not played a rugged schedule, but they are allowing just 4.5 yards per play and eleven points per game. They have not allowed more than twenty points in any game this season (the undefeated Thundering Herd got to twenty) and have held three opponents (Massachusetts, UTSA, and Western Kentucky) out of the endzone entirely. They should probably be favored in this game, especially when you consider that Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts is dealing with a shoulder injury. Georgia Southern may also lack the requisite motivation to get up for this game. This is not a conference game, and the Eagles have dropped back-to-back close games to a former coach and their in-state rivals. Take the Owls to cover this small number and win outright. 

California +10 Oregon
Both the Bears and Ducks lost in the final minutes last week against their arch rivals. Cal lost at home to Stanford thanks to a blocked extra point and Oregon, despite some help from the officials, fell at Oregon State for just the second time since 2007. While Cal's loss was more heartbreaking, Oregon's was more damaging. Whatever pipe dreams the Ducks had for advancing to the College Football Playoff are dashed, and they must win out to have a shot at defending their Pac-12 title. Truth be told, the Ducks probably should have lost the week before at home to UCLA, but some timely turnovers, especially one at the end of the first half helped them edge the Bruins. The betting market loves the Ducks, as this is the eighth straight (regular season) game where they have been a double digit favorite. The Ducks are 3-4 ATS in the previous seven, but the market does not appear to have adjusted to how poor the Oregon defense is this season. Last year, the Ducks finished second in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per play. Thus far, they are tenth in 2020. Oregon is dealing with a host of opt outs, especially in the secondary, so this performance is not that surprising. Having the Ducks continue to lay big numbers, especially on the road, is surprising. Cal is desperate for a win, having lost three straight to open the season. In addition, they have done well as a big home underdog under Justin Wilcox, covering all three times they have been catching at least ten points in Berkeley, while winning two of the games outright. I expect Cal to get back on track and keep this game close. 

South Carolina +11.5 Kentucky
For what its worth, I'm already regretting taking the hometown Gamecocks to cover this number. After upsetting Auburn in mid-October to pull even at 2-2, the Gamecocks have dropped five in a row with four of the five losses coming by seventeen or more points. The lone competitive affair in that stretch came two weeks ago against Missouri, in their first game after firing Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks held Missouri to seventeen points in that game, which is an amazing feat considering they allowed 204 points in the other four games of the skid. I think the Gamecocks may be able to give a similar defensive effort against a Kentucky team that ranks second to last in the SEC in yards per play and third to last in scoring offense. As I've mentioned a few other times, its very hard to cover double digits if you can't score. Obviously, Kentucky will not be shut out by a South Carolina defense that is leaking oil and probably ready to start the offseason, but Kentucky has not done well as a large favorite under Mark Stoops. As a double digit home favorite, they are just 6-8 ATS, and all of the covers have come against Group of Five teams. Against SEC opponents, the Wildcats are 0-3 ATS (all against Vanderbilt). In fact, the Wildcats have not been a double digit favorite against an SEC team other than Vanderbilt since 2007 (they lost that game by the way). And they have not been a double digit favorite against South Carolina since 1998, when the Gamecocks were on the front nine of a nearly two year losing streak (they won, but didn't cover by the way). I know there is always the potential for South Carolina to quit on the season with no coach and no postseason to play for, but what is Kentucky's motivation? After winning eighteen games the past two seasons, the Wildcats have clinched a losing record in 2020. They should win, but I don't expect them to blow the Gamecocks out. 

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