Last Week: 4-3
If you don't follow the MAC or even the Group of Five in general and you glanced at Chris Creighton's overall record at Eastern Michigan, you would probably wonder why he hasn't been fired yet. Creighton has won less than 40% of his games (33-52 heading into Saturday), has just two winning seasons, and has never won more than seven games in any one season. While all those facts are true, they are also devoid of context. Eastern Michigan was a smoldering crater before he arrived. To put his win total in perspective, consider that Eastern Michigan won 35 total games in the 21st century (13 seasons) prior to his tenure. In about half the time (six full seasons, a Covid-shortened campaign, and a third of the way through 2021), Creighton has basically equaled that win total. He has also taken the Eagles to three bowl games, where they have come agonizingly close to capping their season with a victory. Not only has Creighton delivered for woebegone Eastern Michigan fans, he has also delivered for bettors. His teams are 24-11-1 ATS as a road underdog during his tenure and a spectacular 13-1 ATS as a road underdog in MAC play since 2016. Meanwhile, the Huskies have fallen on hard times in recent years. After winning six consecutive MAC West titles between 2010 and 2015 and another in 2018, the Huskies are just 4-10 in MAC play under former Northern Illinois running back Thomas Hammock. The Huskies have shown signs of progress in the early going by winning at Georgia Tech, but with each passing week, that result seems more fluky than proof of concept. Northern Illinois dominated this series before Hammock took over as head coach, winning 17 of 18 contests between 2001 and 2018. However, Eastern Michigan has won the past two and these teams appear to be on opposite trajectories. Take the Eagles and the points and don't be surprised if they pull an outright upset.
Nevada +6.5 Boise State
The Nevada Wolfpack have had a week off to stew about their poor performance as road favorites against Kansas State. The Wolfpack entered with designs on a second road Power Five win, but left with a three-touchdown loss. Their NY6 Bowl hopes are likely dashed, but they still have all their Mountain West goals in front of them. With two losses in September, Boise State can kiss their NY6 dreams goodbye as well. While the Broncos won last week, their victory against Utah State was much closer than the final score. The Aggies slightly outgained the Broncos and averaged more yards per play, but turned the ball over three times and managed only a solitary field goal in four redzone trips. While the Broncos won and covered, its a little concerning they managed just 27 points against a suspect defense. Those offensive issues may be what prevents the Broncos from adding another Mountain West championship to the trophy case. The Broncos have averaged 5.33 yards per play this season, and that includes their relative explosion against UTEP when they churned out nearly seven and a half yards per play. Boise State still plays good defense, especially by Group of Five standards, but if they don't put up a lot of points it will be hard to cover spreads as a favorite. Nevada probably won't hang half a hundred on Boise State, but their quarterback should be playing on Sunday next year. He and the Wolfpack have already played two Power Five road games this season, so they shouldn't be intimidated by the Smurf Turf. I like Nevada to keep this one close and potentially steal one on the road.
Bowling Green +16.5 Kent State
If you want to be competent at football, the best thing you can do is have Brian VanGorder leave, either voluntarily or involuntarily. I won't delve into BVG's full history as a coach (both as a coordinator and head man), but he has not been very successful, yet somehow continued to get work. I guess like most things, its important who you know and that who you know doesn't care about performance. Not to be too mean to BVG, but the Bowling Green defense is leaps and bounds better than it was the previous two seasons he was coordinating it. In 2019, the Falcons allowed nearly 39 points per game. Last season, the Falcons allowed an absurd 45 points per game in their abbreviated campaign. You can probably chalk some of that up to the pandemic, with the MAC starting late and Covid wrecking havoc on rosters and practice time. However, the results thus far in 2021 have been amazing. Through four games, Bowling Green is allowing just 20 points per game. Even if we take out their game against an FCS opponent, they have allowed just over 23 points per game to FBS competition. Despite facing two Power Five opponents, the Bowling Green defense is allowing roughly half as many points per game as they did against an all-MAC schedule last season. The team still has issues on the other side of the ball (and probably always will as long as Scott Loeffler is the head coach) as they have scored just 39 points in their three FBS games. However, the betting market has not caught up to how good this defense is. Case in point, the Falcons won as 30 point underdogs last week at Minnesota when they held the Gophers to ten points and 241 total yards. In their conference opener, that defense will be put to the test against a Kent State team that averaged nearly 50 points per game last season! The small sample size (just four games) and competition (Flashes scored 131 combined points against Akron and Bowling Green) contributed to those absurd scoring numbers, but Kent State pushes the tempo and has put up at least 30 points in nine of their last twelve MAC games. The fast pace makes me a little uneasy as more possessions mean more opportunities for Kent State to get margin in this game, but I'm a believer in the Bowling Green defense. Plus Kent State will probably be the worst FBS defense Bowling Green has faced this season, so they should be able to get their own point total above their season average. Despite their win last week, nobody seems to realize how improved Bowling Green is. Use that to your advantage and back the Falcons this week.
Georgia Southern -1.5 Arkansas State
The team that is favored in this game is 1-3 on the season and has been outscored by 75 total points against the three FBS teams they have faced. They also just fired their head coach and suspended a defensive lineman for pulling a Jackass type stunt before their game last week. The oddsmakers couldn't make it any more clear what will happen. Do you have the stones to back Georgia Southern with an interim coach as a slight home favorite? Here's why you should. Arkansas State used to have one of the best defenses in the Sun Belt. Those days are long gone. Since the start of the 2020 season, the Red Wolves have played eight road games. In those games, they have given up 37, 31, 52, 45, 27, 47, 52, and 41 points. On average, they have surrendered more than 40 points per game! Just this season, they have made Washington's offense look functional and helped Tulsa to their highest point total in nearly a year. Think they want anything to do with defending the triple option, even against a team that may not run it well? I doubt it, especially with Coastal Carolina on deck just five days after this one. Arkansas State will score some points of their own against a porous Georgia Southern defense (I'm shocked the over/under is only 66), but I think Georgia Southern circles the proverbial wagons and gets their first FBS win of the year.
Mississippi State +7 Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher's reputation as a quarterback whisperer has taken a beating since Hayes King was injured. His replacement, Zach Calzada put up good passing numbers against New Mexico, but against the two FBS teams he has faced, the Aggies have scored a grand total of twenty points. They managed to win one of those games because they held Colorado to seven, but unless Calzada figures it out soon, the Aggies could be on their way to a Kevin Sumlin number of losses. Alabama is still on the schedule (next week in fact) as are trips to Ole Miss and LSU as well as a home date with Auburn. I think the Alabama game next week will loom large here. Its never easy to face an 'Air Raid' offense, especially with the Crimson Tide on deck. And lets not forget the Aggies are coming off a tough loss to upstart Arkansas. Of course, Mississippi State is coming off a tough loss of their own against LSU. The Bulldogs outgained the Tigers by over 150 yards, but turnovers, red zone struggles, and a 'leaping the shield' penalty ultimately did them in. Despite the loss, the Bulldogs have thrown the ball well in their second season under Mike Leach. The turnover bugaboos may keep them from winning this game, but with the Texas A&M offense struggling, I can't fathom how you can lay a touchdown with them against any SEC opponent other than Vanderbilt.
South Alabama +12.5 Louisiana-Lafayette
Since opening the 2020 season with a win at Iowa State, Louisiana-Lafayette has been one of the betting markets more overrated teams. Since beating the Cyclones, the Ragin' Cajuns have been favored in eleven of their last thirteen games against FBS opponents. While they are 10-1 straight up in those games, they are just 4-7 ATS and 3-7 ATS when laying more than a touchdown. In addition, eight of those eleven games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The only teams Louisiana-Lafayette blew out in that span were South Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe last season and the rotting corpse of Ohio this season. One of those teams should sound familiar because that is who the Ragin' Cajuns face this week. However, South Alabama is in a much better place than they were last year. When these teams faced off in 2020, South Alabama was in the midst of closing out the Steve Campbell era by losing five of their last six games while fielding an impotent offense (under ten points per game in those five defeats). This season, they are 3-0 while being led by the youngest head coach in FBS (Kane Wommack) and one of the oldest quarterbacks (Jake Bentley). Bentley began his career at South Carolina five years ago and also spent time at Utah last season. Bentley never lived up to the unrealistic expectations the South Carolina fanbase set for him, but he is an above average passer and should thrive against the questionable defenses currently operating in the Sun Belt. This spread should be closer to a touchdown, so snatch up the points with the Jaguars.
New Mexico State +27.5 San Jose State
The biggest game of Saturday night involves a renewal of old acquaintances. The Aggies and Spartans were conference brethren in two defunct leagues (PCAA/Big West, and WAC) for several years until the dissolution of the WAC in 2012. San Jose State became a member of the Mountain West, but New Mexico State has been mostly a college football nomad since. They were members of the Sun Belt for a few seasons, but were politely asked to leave and have been on the independent circuit since 2018. The Aggies actually passed on football last fall and played a very abbreviated spring season where they lost to Tarleton State and defeated Dixie State. Props if you know where those two schools are located (Dixie State is not where you think). In their first fall season in two years, the Aggies have struggled and may end up being the worst FBS team in 2021. They are 0-4 against FBS competition, with their lone victory coming South Carolina State. So why on earth should you risk your hard-earned money on the boys from Las Cruces? Well, for starters, San Jose State has played three FBS teams in 2021. In those three games, they have scored a grand total of 27 points. And their starting quarterback was injured in their last game and is unlikely to play against the Aggies. The Spartans have played well defensively in 2021, limiting their opponents to under five yards per play through four games. However, based on the current rules of football, it is impossible to hold an opponent to negative points in a game. San Jose State will have to score more than 28 points to cover this number and I don't think they can. I am always wary of backing an underdog I believe has no shot of winning the game outright (and that certainly appears to be the case here), but San Jose State has the bulk of their conference season remaining after this game, so I expect a conservative game plan with their backup quarterback and a low-scoring, boring victory. Something along the lines of 20-3 or similar. Plus, while New Mexico State is bad, they have already covered twice this season as massive road underdogs against both San Diego State and New Mexico. This is an ugly dog, but they sometimes make the best pets.