Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Magnificent Seven: Week XIII

We caught some breaks (thanks for the backdoor Illinois) and posted our best week of the year. Let's follow that up with another winning week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 6-1
Overall 47-37

San Jose State +7.5 Fresno State
The Spartans and Bulldogs enter this game off an unusual late season bye. Since both teams played in Week Zero, it was actually the second bye week for each, so neither team should come in with a rest advantage. In addition, despite differing records, both teams still have a lot to play for. Fresno State can win the West division if they beat San Jose State and San Diego State loses to Boise on Black Friday. Meanwhile, San Jose State needs a victory to become bowl eligible for the second consecutive season. That would be quite an accomplishment for a program that has played in back to back bowl games just once in school history. The Spartans have struggled offensively after their championship winning 2020 campaign, but they still play good defense, having held all eleven of their 2021 opponents below six yards per play. In fact, they have done so in their last twenty games since the penultimate game of the 2019 season! They gave up 48 points in their last outing, but that was mostly due to Utah State's excellent starting field position. The Aggies returned an interception for a touchdown and had two touchdown drives under ten yards and a third that began in plus territory. If the Spartans don't offer up room service turnovers, Fresno State should struggle to score. San Jose State is 8-5-1 ATS as a home underdog under Brent Brennan, and are 7-2-1 when catching at least a touchdown as they are here. Bowl eligibility is a big deal, so I don't expect motivation to be an issue despite the fact the other side is arguably playing for more (a potential conference title). Take the Spartans to keep this one close. 

Boise State -2.5 San Diego State
This game kicks off at 9 AM local time on Black Friday. While the players may be a little drowsy from the tryptophan, this game will be televised by regular CBS, so the two of the better teams in the Mountain West will be getting national exposure. This game means a great deal to both teams as San Diego State will clinch a spot in the Mountain West Championship Game with a win (they could also make it with a loss pending the results of the Fresno State game on Thanksgiving) while Boise will keep their division title hopes alive with a win. The Broncos have four regular season losses for the first time since 2015, but have won four in a row in dominant fashion (outscored last four opponents by more than twenty points per game). They have also been better away from the Smurf Turf, posting a 4-1 straight up and (5-0 ATS) record on the road with the lone defeat coming in the opener against a UCF team at full strength. Meanwhile, San Diego State has punted and clawed their way to ten wins, with six of the victories (including the last five) all coming by a touchdown or less. Their defense is one of the best in the Mountain West, but the offense is the worst on a per play basis outside of New Mexico. I've been rooting for the Aztecs and their unaesthetic style all season, but I think they will struggle to keep up with a Boise State team that is rounding into form. 

Miami (Ohio) +1 Kent State
These in-state rivals did not play last season due to Covid. It marked the first season they did not play since the FBS formation of the MAC in 1962. So they are probably chomping at the bit to get a piece of each other. Oh, and lest I forget, this game will also decide the MAC East. And considering a very flawed Northern Illinois team has won the West, the winner of this game will probably be favored at the MAC Championship Game next week at Ford Field. While Kent State is favored by the bookmakers, I rate Miami as the better team. Both teams have prolific offenses, with Kent State having scored 32 offensive touchdowns in seven MAC games. Miami is not far behind, having scored 28 offensive touchdowns in their seven league games. However, on defense, there is no comparison. Miami has allowed 16 offensive touchdowns in MAC play while Kent State has allowed more than double that amount (33). The Golden Flashes play fast, so there should be possessions aplenty in this game. More possessions mean the better team has more opportunities to assert their dominance. In this instance, that team appears to be Miami. In addition, Miami has played well as a road underdog under Chuck Martin, posting a 14-8 ATS record in the role in MAC play. Those numbers also include nine outright wins by the Redhawks. I think the same thing happens here. Miami should win the game and take the division crown. 

Wyoming -10 Hawaii
The Cowboys experienced one of the weirder college football seasons in 2021. They opened the year needing a late comeback to beat FCS Montana State. Then, after scoring just 19 points against the Bobcats, their offense exploded for 95 points in the next two games (the third best two game point total of the Craig Bohl era). Then they went on the road and barely beat Connecticut. Despite the close call with the Huskies, the Cowboys entered Mountain West play with a 4-0 record. They proceeded to drop their first three conference games while scoring a combined 17 points. The Cowboys then changed starting quarterbacks, going from the inaccurate Sean Chambers to the slightly more accurate (but still kind of inaccurate) Levi Williams. The Cowboys have split the four games with Williams as starting quarterback, but the offense has improved significantly. After averaging 5.7 points per game and 4.26 yards per play in their first three conference games, the Cowboys have averaged 27.3 points per game and 6.9 yards per play in their past four. I believe that offense is much more indicative of what we will see on Saturday, especially against a Hawaii defense that is the second worst in the conference in yards allowed per play. In addition, this is Hawaii's seventh consecutive travel weekend. They have alternated home and road games since a bye in early October. 
After upsetting Colorado State last week, I think the Warriors are out of gas and will lay down in this spot. Plus the trends also point to an easy Wyoming win. The Cowboys are 10-4 ATS as a home favorite under Bohl while the Warriors are 1-6 ATS as a road underdog under Todd Graham. Take the Cowboys to win easily. 

Western Kentucky +1 Marshall
Last week's marque Conference USA game was confined to ESPN+ (and ended up being one of the best games of the weekend). At least this week, the game will be on cable as CBS College Sports gets this battle for the East division crown in Conference USA. Since Western Kentucky joined Conference USA in 2014, the Hilltoppers and Thundering Herd have both won two East division crowns (FAU also has two), so this will break the tie. The series has also been pretty competitive with Marshall winning four of the seven contests outright (the past four), but only covering once (last year). Western Kentucky is actually 2-2 in Huntington (covering all four times), which includes an instant classic from their first meeting in 2014. Obviously, those games from several years ago will have little impact on this one, but it does show that a victory by Western Kentucky would not be the most shocking result of the weekend. That is especially true when you note how well the Hilltoppers have played since they began the season 1-4. Two of those losses were to teams currently ranked in the AP Poll, another was a tight home loss to a Power Five team, and the fourth was on the road against a service academy. Since that 1-4 start, the Hilltoppers have averaged 44 points per game and their defense that was a liability in the early going, has allowed under twenty points per game. Granted the competition has not been strong, but that is what you get in Conference USA, arguably the weakest FBS conference. Marshall has handled their business against the dregs of Conference USA as well, winning their five conference contests by an average of 22 points per game. However, they also dropped a home game to the best Conference USA team they have faced thus far (UAB), so don't be afraid to back a road team in Huntington. Western Kentucky will score a lot and their defense has improved enough to get the stops needed to win this game. 

Penn State -1 Michigan State
Ohio State peeled back the curtain last week and exposed Michigan State for a fraud. The Spartans entered with one loss, but probably should have had two or three more (Nebraska, Indiana, and Michigan) if not for some non-offensive scores and questionable officiating. The great start made Mel Tucker a hot commodity. His bank account is certainly better for it, but we'll see how happy Michigan State is in a few years when they realize they broke the back for a coach with a 7-12 overall record heading into 2021. James Franklin also added some money to his coffers, but at least he is the proud owner of a Big 10 title (not to mention unprecedented success at Vanderbilt). But I digress. After a hot start, Penn State has lost four of their past six games. But lets look at the teams that beat Penn State. Every team that has beaten Penn State this season either plays pretty good defense (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State) or is one of the best teams in the country (Michigan and Ohio State). I can hear the Michigan State fans now. But we beat...Yes, you did beat Michigan. That is one of eleven data points for both teams. The other ten all point to Michigan being the superior team. And in case you missed last week's game, Michigan State is not very good at defense. There are four Big 10 teams with a worse per play defense in (Big 10 games) than the Spartans. Those teams are Maryland, Northwestern, Purdue, and Rutgers. Meanwhile, Penn State has the second best per play defense in the Big 10 (Wisconsin). I think they shut down the explosive Michigan State run game and leave East Lansing with a win. 

California +7 UCLA
College football fans were a little too eager to jump on the UCLA bandwagon this year. The Bruins were better than their record a year ago, having posted a 3-4 record with the four defeats coming by a combined fifteen points. When they opened 2021 by blowing out Hawaii and upsetting LSU, we figured they were back. Well, about that. It's great that UCLA has clinched a winning record for the first time under Chip Kelly, but take a look at who those wins have come against. I'll wait. 
The best team they have beaten is either LSU or Southern Cal. Their other Pac-12 victories (and Hawaii) have all come against bad teams. Give the Bruins credit for winning those games (something they hadn't done in Kelly's first three seasons), but is this a team you really want to lay a touchdown with? The defense is still below average (we'll be kind and not call them bad) and the Bruins have a history of losing home games they were supposed to win under Kelly. The Bruins are 4-9 ATS as a home favorite and have lost outright seven times (three times this season)! Meanwhile, Cal still has the stench of their Covid aided loss to Arizona hovering around the team. However, even with that loss factored in, the Bears have been better than the Bruins on a per play basis in the Pac-12. Cal has outgained their conference foes by more than a yard per play while UCLA is barely above water in that statistic. In addition, Cal has been superb as a road underdog under Justin Wilcox, posting a 14-4 ATS record with seven outright wins. With their rescheduled game with Southern Cal on deck next week, Cal still has a shot at getting to a bowl game, so they should be motivated against their more hyped ursine rivals. Take Cal to cover and potentially win the game outright.  

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