Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Fab Five: Week XV

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 30-38-2
The past two weeks have pretty much doomed us to a losing record this year. But there is no opting out this late in the season. We have some Championship Weekend picks and next week, we'll get some bowl picks out to you. Enjoy.
*Note this post has been updated with the cancelation of the Florida State/Wake Forest game. 

Ball State +13.5 Buffalo @ Detroit
While Power Five conference title games have pretty gone to form over the past few years, the MAC is a place where underdogs can still howl. Since 2005, the betting underdog in the MAC Championship Game is 11-4 Against the Spread (ATS) and an impressive 6-9 straight up. Double digit favorites have performed quite poorly, going 1-6 ATS in that span with three outright losses. In fact, this exact matchup occurred twelve years ago with the roles almost perfectly reversed. Ball State entered the game as a two touchdown favorite, sporting an undefeated record and the first ranking in school history. A few fluky turnovers by the Cardinals and an efficient passing game from Buffalo allowed the Bulls to win their first MAC title. Will history repeat it self, but different? Buffalo is unbeaten, rolling through their abbreviated MAC schedule with a 5-0 record, but a closer inspection of their record reveals the Bulls have pounded patsies. Three of their five opponents (Akron, Bowling Green, and Northern Illinois) combined for one victory and the best team they faced was Kent State. Of course, Jaret Patterson nearly set the NCAA rushing record against the Golden Flashes, but Ball State will probably represent Buffalo's strongest opponent to date. Buffalo has an efficient and explosive running game, but if they are ever forced into passing situations, I'm not sure they will be able to respond. The Bulls have attempted only five passes all season on third and long (at least seven yards to go for a first down). If the Cardinals can limit the running of the Bulls even a little, they have a great chance to keep this game close. 

Oregon +3.5 Southern Cal
With the Washington Huskies sidelined this week, Oregon will look to become the first Pac-12 team to repeat as conference champs since Stanford in 2013. The Ducks were the highest ranked Pac-12 team in the preseason and looked on their way to an unbeaten campaign. However, a loss to their arch-rivals in Corvallis begat a strange loss at Cal where the offense managed just seventeen points (the fewest the Ducks have managed since their date with Cal last season. The Bears are the only team over the past two seasons to hold the Ducks under twenty points. While Oregon stumbled, Southern Cal was clutch. The Trojans were far from dominant, as evidenced by their placement in the College Football Playoff rankings, but fourth quarter comebacks against Arizona, Arizona State, and UCLA have them sitting at 5-0 for the first time since 2006! Despite the glossy record, Southern Cal is barely above water in terms of Net Yards per Play. The Trojans have outgained their Pac-12 opponents by 0.06 yards per play while Oregon is at a more robust +1.52. I understand why the Trojans are favored, but the records of these two teams could easily be reversed. I like the Ducks to cover and win outright as they did in last season's Pac-12 Championship Game. 

Ole Miss -2 LSU
LSU at Florida was Exhibit A for why I was disappointed the ACC gave Clemson and Notre Dame the week off before their rematch in the ACC Championship Game. No matter how likely a victory seems on paper, college football has a habit of delivering unexpected results. LSU won in Gainesville despite allowing over 600 yards of offense (the third time an opponent has gained at least 600 yards against the Tigers this season) at over eight yards per play thanks to some timely turnovers (+3 in the game with a pick six), a clutch field goal, and of course, a shoe toss. While the victory gives LSU bragging rights against Florida for another year, their defense was just as bad (if a little more opportunistic) as they have been all season. With Vanderbilt's game against Georgia canceled and the Commodores season complete, the Tigers have a chance to finish with the worst per play defense in the SEC. They are currently a miniscule 0.05 yards per play better than Vanderbilt. With the explosive Ole Miss offense coming to Baton Rouge, they certainly have a shot at passing them. Ole Miss has lost four straight in this series, with each loss coming by at least sixteen points, but beating LSU would serve as a nice coda to Lane Kiffin's first year in Oxford. The Tigers are getting too much credit for a fluky win last week. Take the Rebels to win and force LSU to drop the axe on Bo Pelini. 

Missouri -1.5 Mississippi State
Mercifully, Mike Leach's first season in the SEC will come to an end on Saturday. After exposing the defending national champs in their opener, the Bulldogs have fallen on hard times. Their offense has averaged just fourteen points per game since that opening salvo, and the team has not scored more than 24 points in any other game this season. I'm not an Air Raid skeptic, and I expect Leach to eventually have success in Starkville, but for this season, it sure seems to be a square peg/round hole situation. That being the case, I am shocked the Bulldogs are basically a pick 'em against a Missouri team enjoying a solid first season under Eli Drinkwitz. The Tigers are 5-4, but three of their losses have come to the best teams in the conference (Alabama, Florida, and Georgia). The other came to Tennessee and their really is no excuse for that. I think recency bias is playing a role in this spread as their most recent game was against a suddenly explosive Georgia team where they were mostly non-competitive. Luckily, explosive does not begin to describe Mississippi State's offense. The Tigers should win easily and close the regular season with win number six. 

Notre Dame +10.5 Clemson @ Charlotte
While the previous games I picked don't have really any national consequences, this game could be quite impactful. A victory by Notre Dame could keep Clemson out of the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2014, while a victory by Clemson could see the ACC net two playoff bids. Everyone remembers what happened in the first game, where Clemson, without Trevor Lawrence, lost in overtime at South Bend. Despite the victory, many in the college football universe were not impressed. Notre Dame's blowout losses at the hands of Alabama and Clemson in 2012 and 2018 respectively seem to be what is driving this number north of double digits. I know the Irish had the homefield and an experience advantage at quarterback in the last meeting, but beating the Tigers in any venue under any circumstances in this era is impressive. Clemson has won five consecutive ACC titles, with their past three championship game victories coming by an average of just over 37 points per game. Perhaps that is also contributing to this big number. The betting market remembers Clemson dominating in this spot the past few seasons. If this game were in Death Valley, double digits might be justified. However, on a neutral field, the Irish are the play. 

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