Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Fab Five: Week XIV

Last Week: 2-4
Overall: 29-34-2
Our first losing week since Halloween undoes most of the good we did in November. There are just two weeks left in the regular season and then the bowls start. It will take a spirited effort to get back to .500, but here goes.

Louisville -1 Wake Forest
What a difference a year makes. Scott Satterfield built up a great deal of equity with the Louisville faithful in 2019, going 8-5 and finishing with a winning record in the ACC after the team bottomed out in 2018. However, his recent flirtations with and denials about the open South Carolina job, to go along with a disappointing 3-7 record, have likely signaled the end of the honeymoon period. Of course, on a per play level Louisville has improved in his second season. Last year, the Cardinals paired a strong offense with a poor defense, but won all their close games (3-0 in one-score games) to finish with a winning record despite being outscored on the year. This season, the Cardinals still have a powerful offense, and a weak defense, but are 0-4 in close games. Despite their 3-7 record, they have actually outscored their ten opponents and this is without the usual benefit of an FCS non-conference slaughter. Louisville is better than their record and should probably be a larger favorite against a Wake Forest team playing its first game in nearly a month. The Demon Deacons were last seen blowing a three touchdown lead in a loss at North Carolina. Wake plays fast and has a solid offense and an even worse defense than the Cardinals, so expect a lot of possessions and a lot of points. What more could you ask for from two mediocre teams playing a meaningless game in the midst of a global pandemic? With an expected high point total, this minuscule spread should not come into play. Take the Cardinals to close the year with their fourth victory. 

Northern Illinois +6 Eastern Michigan
One of the more shocking, if under the radar results, from last week was winless Eastern Michigan drilling their directional rivals in Kalamazoo 53-42. The Eagles, as they always are under Chris Creighton, had been competitive in 2020, but had dropped their first four games and seemed headed for a potential 0-6 campaign. However, they scored more than fifty points against an FBS opponent for the first time since 2017 and beat the Broncos for the second straight season. The win was pretty emblematic of what Eastern Michigan is under Chris Creighton, great as an underdog. Against MAC competition, Eastern Michigan is 21-15-2 Against the Spread (ATS) as a betting underdog. They are even better if we look at what they have done since 2016. In Creighton's first two seasons as head coach, he didn't give much indication that he would be different than his predecessors, winning just a single conference game outright while posting a 4-11-1 ATS mark (all as an underdog). However, since 2016, the Eagles are 17-4-1 ATS as an underdog against MAC teams. Of course, while the Eagles have been great as an underdog under Creighton, they have not done nearly as well laying points. The Eagles were not favored against a conference opponent until their 21st game under Creighton (they lost that game). Since then, they have been favored here and there, but have not done well covering the number, posting a 4-10 ATS mark as a conference favorite (2-7 ATS at home). I expect that trend to continue as they are laying too many points, even against Northern Illinois. 

UAB -7 Rice
I mentioned Eastern Michigan dropping fifty was one of the more shocking results from last week, but without a doubt, the most shocking result was Rice shutting out Marshall on the road as a more than twenty point underdog. The Owls didn't do a whole lot on offense, racking up just over 200 yards while averaging just over 3.5 yards per play. However, they forced numerous turnovers, intercepting Grant Wells five times, while returning one for a touchdown. Now the Owls will look to build on that victory against a UAB team that has not played in six weeks thanks to numerous cancellations. The Blazers have won all three games against Rice by double digits since their rebirth in 2017. This spread is lower than it should be thanks to Rice's inexplicable win last week. I think the Owls revert to form this week and drop this game by more than a touchdown. 

Navy +7 Army
America's Game, like most things in 2020, will look a little different. For starters, the academies will not have the stage to themselves. Instead, they will square off while a litany of other college football games are contested at the same time. This is the first time since 2008 that Army and Navy are not the only game in town. In addition, instead of a neutral site, this game will be played at West Point for the first time since 1943. Apparently, there were some pretty important things going on in the world during that time. Oh, and the other unique thing is that Army is favored for just the fourth time this century (and just the second time since 2002). The Black Knights will finish with a winning record for the fourth time in five seasons, but their schedule is light on quality wins. Three of their seven wins have come against FCS competition and two of their four FBS victories have come against the worst the 2020 season has to offer (Louisiana Monroe and Middle Tennessee). Navy is not a good team, but the Midshipmen are AAC bad, not Sun Belt bad. Army should be favored, but this is too many points, especially going against an opponent that is intimately familiar with Army's offense. The underdog has done quite well in this series of late, covering eight of the last twelve and five of the last six. I expect more of the same with the Midshipmen giving a spirited effort. 

Baylor +5.5 Oklahoma State
The Bears and Cowboys will look to end their disappointing seasons on a high note in Waco. Baylor could never get going in Dave Aranda's first season at the helm. The Bears lost five of their first six games and enter the regular season finale having beaten the two Big 12 teams from the Sunflower State and no one else. For Oklahoma State, their potential Big 12 title dreams have evaporated along with their dominant defense since Halloween. In their first four conference games, the Cowboys allowed a minuscule 4.29 yards per play. However, since losing to Texas, in a game they dominated in the stat sheet if not the scoreboard, the Cowboys have allowed 6.83 yards per play. To make matters worse for degenerates, the Cowboys have not covered a point spread since laying waste to Kansas in early October. They are on a run of six consecutive point spread losses and with nothing to play for, how can you lay points with them on the road? Since Mike Gundy arrived in Stillwater, this has been a weird series. The Cowboys are 8-7 against the Bears under Gundy, but have lost six of the past eight and have not won in Waco since 2009. In addition, despite only six of the games having a double digit point spread, thirteen have resulted in a double digit margin of victory. For whatever reason, these games have tended to get ugly, no matter which team is favored. I think the Bears will give a good effort at home before going into hibernation for the offseason. Take Baylor and the points. 

No comments: