Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Magnificent Seven: Week IX

We got back .500 with a winning week last week. Let's see if we can go back to back. Home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 28-28

Charlotte +16.5 Rice
The Club Lit era at Charlotte is over. After guiding the 49ers to their first bowl game in school history in his first season in 2019, Will Healy could not field a competent defense over the past two seasons and lost his job following a loss to Florida International last week. The 49ers have lost seven consecutive Conference USA games since beating, wait for it, Rice, last November. That victory was the 49ers fifth last season, but they dropped their final three games and missed out on a bowl. Their defense was truly atrocious last season, as they allowed over seven and a half yards per play to conference opponents. Believe it or not, while their defense is still bad in 2022, they have improved by about a yard per play against conference opponents. I don't expect Charlotte to pitch a shutout, but Rice will probably not score as many points this week as they did last week. Louisiana Tech actually owns the worst per play defense in Conference USA, so we probably saw peak Rice (at least offensively) last week. There are two questions that must be answered before you back Charlotte. The first is, have the 49ers quit? Healy is out and Pete Rossomando is in. Can the interim coach motivate the team or are they checked out and ready for 2023? The other question concerns quarterback Chris Reynolds. Will Reynolds start and finish the game? If so, the 49ers should be able to score enough to cover this number. Reynolds backups have not played well when he has missed time this season. I'll bank on him avoiding injury in this game and the team staying motivated for at least one more week. If the losses continue to mount, it might be time to evacuate the mine, but we'll stay underground with them for one more week. 

Central Florida -1.5 Cincinnati
This matchup lost a little luster when Central Florida was upset at East Carolina last weekend. Instead of a clash between two teams with undefeated conference records, Cincinnati has a chance to almost eliminate Central Florida from the conference race. While the Knights fell in Greenville last weekend, the margin was misleading. Central Florida scored just 13 points, but they averaged over six yards per play. They committed four turnovers (while forcing none) and also turned the ball over on downs once. The Knights may have been looking past the Pirates to this pivotal game with the Bearcats. I expect Cincinnati will have Central Florida's full attention this week. The Bearcats have won three straight in this series, including a dominating 56-21 victory in the Queen City last year. Cincinnati won in their last trip to Orlando, but that came in the pandemic season when crowd size was limited. With a full house, at the Bounce House, I think Central Florida gets back on track and makes the AAC race a little more interesting. 

New Mexico State -2 Massachusetts
On the surface, this seems like a pretty even matchup between two bad teams. The Aggies are 2-5 and the Minutemen are 1-6. With the 1-6 team having the homefield, it makes sense this spread is so tight. However, if you dig a little deeper into New Mexico State, you will see the Aggies have played better than you think. The Aggies have played seven games, with two coming against Big 10 teams. Minnesota and Wisconsin dominated the Aggies, outscoring them 104-7. However, in their five games against Group of Five competition, the Aggies, dare I say, have actually played well. They have outgained their five Group of Five opponents by more than a half a yard per play (5.13 to 4.54). Those five teams are not what you would classify as 'good' teams (Florida International, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and UTEP), but then again, neither is Massachusetts. What about the Minutemen? If we strip out their performance against Power Five teams, how do they look? Well, not a lot changes, since they haven't faced a Power Five team (they get their shot to inflict even more angst in College State in a few weeks). Both these teams are led by coaching veterans (Jerry Kill and Don Brown), but only one appears to be heading in the right direction. You won't hear this said (or written) very often, but the Aggies should be favored by more. Take them at this cheap price. 

North Texas +10 Western Kentucky
Last week, one of the more impressive under the radar streaks in the Group of Five ended. Heading into their trip to the Alamodome, North Texas had won eight consecutive Conference USA games. The Mean Green even held the lead late against the Roadrunners, but UTSA scored in the final seconds to pull out the victory. I was skeptical of North Texas coming into the season, and they struggled in non-conference play, losing all three FBS games. However, North Texas played well enough to win two of those games (they were not competitive against SMU). Against UNLV and Memphis, the Mean Green outgained the Rebels and Tigers on a per play basis (6.36 to 6.03), but committed five turnovers while only forcing one. Two of those turnovers led directly to touchdowns with Memphis racking up two pick sixes in a ten point win. On paper, Western Kentucky has been the best team in Conference USA on a per play basis. In their four conference games, they outgained their opponents by nearly two yards per play (6.61 to 4.66). However, a lot of that surplus was gained in their domination of Florida International. If we remove that 73-0 drubbing, the Hilltoppers have a more modest differential (5.67 to 5.29). The Hilltoppers are still benefiting from that beatdown of the Panthers. Ten points is too many to lay against a competent team like North Texas. 

Missouri +3.5 South Carolina
South Carolina has won four in a row after a 1-2 start and is ranked in the AP Poll for the first time since the early portion of the 2018 season. While the wins are great, context is necessary. Half of those wins came against FCS or bad FBS teams (South Carolina State and Charlotte). The other two are legitimate wins, but Kentucky was starting their backup quarterback and Texas A&M outgained the Gamecocks in both yards and yards per play. The key to both victories was a fast start. Kentucky turned the ball over on their first series and South Carolina scored in the first minute of the game. South Carolina ran the opening kickoff back against Texas A&M and used some Aggie turnovers to lead 17-0 after barely five minutes of game time. The Wildcats and Aggies were able to get back in both games, but those early deficits let South Carolina play from a positive game state. The enigmatic Spencer Rattler (eight interceptions in 2022) didn't have to throw the ball a lot in a comeback effort. Can the Gamecocks get off to a similarly quick start against a Missouri team that has played nothing but close conference games? Their four conference games have been decided by a total of 17 points. That is the product of a good defense and bad offense. Georgia and Alabama are the only SEC teams with better per play defensive numbers than the Tigers in conference play. On the other side of the ball, Vanderbilt is the only SEC team with worse per play offensive numbers. With an offense as bad as Missouri's the big worry is that South Carolina's great special teams (three special teams touchdowns this year) or defense put Missouri in a multi-score hole they are unable to claw out of. While South Carolina is 4-2 under Shane Beamer in home SEC conference games, three of those victories have been point spread upsets. The only previous time South Carolina has been favored in an SEC game under Beamer was last year against Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks needed a last minute touchdown to win that game by a single point. I expect a defensive game played in the teens or low twenties, so I'll take the points with Missouri.   

UAB -4.5 Florida Atlantic
UAB is a disappointing 4-3 under interim coach Bryant Vincent. When Bill Clark unexpectedly retired due to health reasons over the summer, I thought the Blazers might fall off. However, while the Blazers have suffered three defeats, they have been actually played pretty well this season. In their losses against Liberty, Rice, and Western Kentucky, the Blazers have outgained their opponents by nearly a yard per play (5.98 to 5.14). Unfortunately, their turnover margin in those three games is -7. The Blazers have committed ten turnovers in those three games, including eight lost fumbles! In their most recent loss to Western Kentucky, the Blazers also lost their starting quarterback and his uncertain status is probably one of the reasons this line is so low. The backup quarterback did not play well last week (he also only attempted ten passes), but even with a limited passing attack, the Blazers still ran the ball efficiently (as they have all season). DeWayne McBride is 25 yards away from 1000 on the season and I expect him to hit that threshold in the first quarter (perhaps the first drive) against an iffy Florida Atlantic defense. Willie Taggart won five of his first six games as coach of the Owls in the pandemic shortened 2020 season. However, since beating Massachusetts by the odd score of 24-2, the Owls are just 6-15 against FBS opponents. The Blazers can win this game by a touchdown with their backup quarterback and if Dylan Hopkins plays, the Blazers will roll. 

Pittsburgh +3 North Carolina
One season after failing to meet lofty preseason expectations, North Carolina appears to be coasting toward a Coastal division title. The Tar Heels are currently the only team in the Coastal with a winning conference record and they are two games in the loss column ahead of everyone else. Even if they drop this game to the Panthers, Pitt would likely need to run the table to have a shot at snatching the division from them. Long term for this season, the Tar Heels are looking good, but for this game at least, I think the Panthers are a good play. Pitt scored ten points on the road against a bad Louisville defense last week, which is not a great look for the Panthers. However, before we go burying the Panthers, let's acknowledge one thing Louisville can do - generate negative plays. Louisville is fifth nationally in sacks per game and tenth in tackles for loss per game. They only sacked Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis twice, but one led to a defensive touchdown and they accumulated six tackles for loss. North Carolina also has a bad defense, but they don't generate any pressure. The Tar Heels are 93rd nationally in sacks per game and 120th in tackles for loss per game. Their offense has been elite, averaging nearly 42 points per game, but against competent FBS offenses (those not named Virginia Tech), they are allowing over 38 points per game. Off their ACC Championship, Pitt has struggled with their personnel losses on offense, but Israel Abanikanda, who rushed for 320 yards three weeks ago, should be poised for another big game. I'll take the points with Pitt and see if they can tighten the Coastal race. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Magnificent Seven: Week VIII

We were back to our regular 3-4 standard last week. The season is half over, so its time to make some progress on this record. Home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 24-25

Eastern Michigan +2.5 Ball State
The past two weeks are a microcosm of what Eastern Michigan has become under Chris Creighton. Two weeks ago, the Eagles traveled to Kalamazoo to face Western Michigan as a small underdog. They crushed the Broncos. Last week, Eastern Michigan returned home to face Northern Illinois as a slight home favorite. They lost by four touchdowns. After two seasons bad seasons at the beginning of his tenure, Eastern Michigan has been competitive for seven years under Creighton (since 2016). In that span, the Eagles are a pathetic 3-10 ATS as a home favorite in MAC play with eight outright losses. However, as a road underdog against MAC opponents, they are 15-2 ATS with eight outright wins. I'm not sure if the betting market oscillates too far on their individual results or if the Eagles check out after big wins and check back in after unexpected losses, but this phenomenon seems to be real. I think it continues this week against a weak home favorite in Ball State. The Cardinals are just 5-10 ATS as a home favorite under Mike Neu and while they have won three in a row to get to 4-3 on the season, each win has come by less then a touchdown. Take the Eagles to pull another road upset. 

UCLA +6 Oregon
At 6-0 and ranked ninth in the latest edition of the AP Poll, UCLA has achieved their highest ranking since they rose to seventh in 2015. That season, after a 4-0 start, the Bruins split their final eight regular season games and following a bowl loss to Nebraska, finished 8-5. That marked the beginning of the end of the Jim Mora era in Los Angeles. The Bruins went 4-8 in 2016 and after a 5-6 start in 2017, Mora was canned and in 2018, the Chip Kelly era began. It took Kelly awhile to get the Bruins on the right track, but since the start of last season, they are 14-4 (9-3 in Pac-12 play) and humming on offense. Both the Ducks and Bruins are averaging north of seven yards per play in Pac-12 action (top two offenses), so yards should not be hard to come by. The over/under currently sits at 71, and while both these teams are certainly capable of getting to 35 apiece, that seems a little ambitious. While both teams have scored at least 40 in each of their conference games, I think the early part of this game will be like a heavyweight fight with both teams feeling each other out with jabs and counters. While Oregon has faced the more challenging schedule overall (remember their opener?), I think UCLA has been tested more in Pac-12 play (having vanquished both Washington and Utah). The teams are pretty evenly matched, so I like the fact the Bruins are catching nearly a touchdown. Kelly is 0-3 against his old team since returning to the college ranks, but the past two games in this series have both been decided by three points. I expect another close one on Saturday. 

Memphis +7 Tulane
Memphis could easily be 6-1 and on a six-game heater heading into this clash in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the Tigers blew a late double digit lead at home to Houston and then lost a toss up in overtime to East Carolina. Had a bounce here or there gone their way in either or both of those games, would Tulane be laying a touchdown? I doubt it. Consequently, I think you are getting some value on the Tigers. Tulane's defense is also probably a little overvalued. The Green Wave held East Carolina to nine points two weeks ago and the Pirates scored 30 points against Memphis in regulation last week. However, against Tulane, the Pirates missed a field goal, threw two interceptions, and were stopped on downs twice in Tulane territory. Meanwhile, against Memphis, the Pirates returned an interception for a touchdown and did not commit a single turnover. On a neutral field, I think this would be a pick 'em or Tulane would be a small favorite. The Tigers are getting too many points and I think Tulane may be reading their own press clippings. The Green Wave are ranked in the latest edition of the AP Poll. This is their first ranking since 1998! I think they suffer a bit of a letdown in a tight game.  

Wisconsin -2.5 Purdue
One of these teams is 3-1 in Big 10 play and tied for first place in their division. The other is 1-3 in the Big 10 and tied for last place. And of course, the team in last place is favored over the team in first. Gambling makes perfect sense! This is not a vintage Wisconsin team, but I like them in this spot for a few reasons. For starters, they have dominated this series. The Badgers have beaten Purdue fifteen consecutive times, with the last Purdue win coming in 2003. Twelve of those fifteen victories have come by double digits. Plus, if you look at yards per play numbers, Wisconsin has fared better than Purdue in Big 10 play. Both teams are being outgained on per play basis (Wisconsin by .49 yards per play and Purdue by .92). And that includes Wisconsin's loss to Ohio State. If we remove that game from their ledger, the Badgers are actually above water (+.17 yards per play) in the Big 10. I know arbitrarily removing games may not be the best way to handicap football teams, but Ohio State is clearly a cut above the rest of the Big 10 (except for maybe Michigan) this season. Purdue has won all their Big 10 games by one score and they have been getting torched by opposing passers (Big 10 quarterbacks have averaged 8.7 yards per pass against their secondary). Graham Mertz may finally deliver on his hype this weekend. Take Wisconsin to cover this small number. 

UTEP +3.5 Florida Atlantic
Florida Atlantic has won two road games since Willie Taggart became head coach in 2020. They beat winless Florida International in 2020 and Charlotte in 2021. Charlotte finished with a respectable 5-7 record last season, but their defense was among the worst in FBS. This season, the Owls have already dropped two games as a road favorite, allowing over 40 points to both Ohio and North Texas. They edged Rice last week in the 'Owl Bowl', but averaged under four yards per play and scored 17 points at home. UTEP is off a bye and is playing at home where they have been dangerous over the past few seasons. The Miners put up back-to-back 1-11 records in Dana Dimel's first two season in El Paso (2018 and 2019). In those two seasons, they were just 2-7 ATS as a home underdog with zero outright wins. However, since the start of 2020, they are 4-2 ATS as a home underdog with three outright wins. I think they make it four this weekend. 

Boise State +2.5 Air Force
A few weeks ago, it appeared Boise's run of Mountain West domination was over (I know the Broncos didn't even win their division, much less the conference last season, but Boise is the most well known Mountain West program and they have four titles since joining the league in 2011). The Broncos were 2-2 with non-competitive road losses to Oregon State and UTEP. The Broncos had scored six touchdowns in their first three games against FBS opponents and looked anemic on offense. Following the UTEP loss, they fired their offensive coordinator and installed former head coach Dirk Koetter as the interim OC. Koetter put a renewed emphasis on the running game and the Broncos rolled up over 600 yards on the ground in their next two games at over six and half yards per clip. Now Boise is 3-0 in the Mountain West and a game clear of Wyoming and Utah State in the division. Meanwhile, Air Force, a team with plausible designs on an unbeaten season, is 2-2 in league play and their division odds are nearly dead. The Falcons have been a disappointment thanks to their poor rush defense. Their four Mountain West opponents have rushed for 138 yards per game and averaged nearly five yards per carry against the Falcons defense. That includes their most recent showing against UNLV and their backup quarterback. Take that game away, and their other three opponents have rushed for 164 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry! Air Force upset Boise on the Smurf Turf last season, but the Broncos have won the past two games in Colorado Springs and this marks the first time the Falcons have been favored against the Broncos. I think Boise has turned things around and will be able to handle a flawed conference opponent on the road. 

Utah State +4.5 Wyoming
He fooled us y'all. Despite his track record at Arkansas State, we panicked when Utah State struggled in the non-conference this season. Blake Anderson coached Arkansas State for seven seasons (2014-2020) and in that time, his regular season non-conference record was 11-15 (he even lost to an FCS team). Despite the routine rough starts, his teams went 38-18 once conference play started (36-12 his first six seasons). Last season, his first at Utah State, the Aggies went 3-1 in the non-conference and then rolled to a surprise conference title. This season, the Aggies struggled with Connecticut, got blown out by Alabama, and then lost at home to an FCS team (in blowout fashion). Two more losses followed as the Aggies dropped their conference opener to UNLV and then a rivalry game to BYU. However, the Aggies regrouped and have won two in a row over Air Force and Colorado State to move to 2-1 in Mountain West play. Now the Aggies have a chance to win their third in a row and even their overall record as they travel to Laramie to face Wyoming in Bridger's Battle. Wyoming has struggled to score for most of Craig Bohl's tenure when a certain NFL quarterback was not taking snaps for the Cowboys. In 2016 and 2017, when Josh Allen was the starting quarterback, Wyoming averaged nearly 30 points per game (29.9). in Bohl's other seven seasons in charge, the Cowboys have averaged almost exactly a touchdown less per game (22.8). Its hard to cover when you struggle to score. Take Utah State and points. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

With some good picks and a little luck, we finally posted another winning week. This moves our overall record back to .500. Hopefully more good fortune is in store. Home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 21-21

Coastal Carolina -11 Old Dominion
Last week, in my write up of the Coastal/Louisiana-Monroe game, I mentioned Coastal is on a low-key incredible run of being favored in every game since their upset of BYU late in the 2020 season. I also noted the Chanticleers had not adapted to the role of favorite. Updating their ATS tally based on last week's results, Coastal drops to 7-12 ATS as a favorite since the streak began and 5-10 ATS as a double digit favorite. So naturally, they are the play this week. Unlike their previous large spreads, I think this one is actually warranted. Old Dominion has put up a good fight against their Power Five in-state opponents this season, beating Virginia Tech at home and narrowly losing to Virginia on the road. However, the Hokies and the Cavaliers significantly outplayed the Monarchs on a down to down basis, outgaining them by more than a yard per play (5.39 to 4.18). The games were close thanks to turnovers. The Monarchs forced eight in those two games while committing only three of their own. Those two close games are allowing you to buy Coastal at a bit of a discount. Barring an injury to Grayson McCall, Coastal is almost guaranteed to score north of 30 points in this game. The Chanticleers are averaging nearly 39 points per game at home since McCall became the starting quarterback at the beginning on the 2020 season. By contrast, Old Dominion has had a difficult time scoring points this season. The Monarchs are averaging just north of five yards per play and just under 22 points per game and have not faced an imposing set of defenses. I think this is the proverbial 'get right' game for Coastal as the Chanticleers improve to 7-0 and potentially break into the AP Poll for the third consecutive season.

Louisiana Tech +7 North Texas
Louisiana Tech and North Texas both put up 1-3 record in the non-conference, so this game is vital to their bowl hopes. At 2-3, a victory would even Louisiana Tech's record halfway through their first season under Sonny Cumbie and mean a split over their final six would get them to the postseason. North Texas is already 3-3, having played and won a conference game in Week Zero, but a loss here will likely keep them home for the holidays as they have road contests remaining with the three top teams in the conference (UAB, UTSA, and Western Kentucky). While the teams put up matching 1-3 marks in non-conference play, Louisiana Tech played the tougher schedule. Both squads knocked off their FCS opponent, but Louisiana Tech faced two Power Five teams on the road (Clemson and Missouri) as well as one of the better Sun Belt teams (South Alabama). Meanwhile, North Texas did not face a single Power Five team, losing to Memphis, SMU, and UNLV, with the in-state battle with the Mustangs coming at home. North Texas was a home underdog to a bad Florida Atlantic team two weeks ago. Now suddenly, we should trust them laying a full touchdown in a conference game? With that defense? These teams have played every year since joining Conference USA in 2013 and Louisiana Tech has won seven of the nine meetings, including all four in Denton (twice as an underdog). Since qualifying for the 2017 Conference USA Championship Game (and getting waxed by Florida Atlantic), North Texas has been a conference favorite of at least a touchdown eleven times. They are 4-11 ATS in those games. Take the Bulldogs to keep this one close.    

Southern Miss
-4 Arkansas State
The season is almost halfway over, but the rest of it should be a breeze for Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles have faced a low-key challenging schedule so far. Their five FBS opponents are a combined 16-7 with the Miami Hurricanes posting the worst record at 2-3. Southern Miss looked horrendous on offense in their last game as Troy limited them 205 total yards and under 3.5 yards per play. However, the Trojans have the best defense in the Sun Belt and one of the best defenses in the G5, especially at home. In their two Sun Belt home games, the Trojans have made two competent offenses (Marshall and Southern Miss) look like bad FCS teams, holding them to 17 total points and an absurd 2.9 yards per play. The going should get a little easier as the Golden Eagles return to Hattiesburg to face Arkansas State in a rematch of the 2005 New Orleans Bowl. The Red Wolves are better than they were last season, but that is not a high bar to clear. While they have already matched last year's Sun Belt win total (1), they have been outgained on a per play basis in all three games (aggregate total of nearly a yard and a half per play) and are 1-4 straight up in Sun Belt road games under Butch Jones. This spread implies Southern Miss would be favored by about a point at a neutral site. I think that undersells Southern Miss by about a field goal. I'm always a little hesitant in laying more than three, but I think Southern Miss wins this game by at least a touchdown. 

Nebraska +14 Purdue
Believe it or not, this is for a share of first place in the Big 10 West. After opening conference play with embarrassing and heartbreaking losses respectively, the Cornhuskers and Boilermakers have both won two conference games in a row to move into a first place tie with Illinois. A loss by Nebraska practically eliminates them from division title contention as they will likely be underdogs in their next five games. Purdue has a more navigable schedule, particularly the closing stretch with Northwestern and Indiana, so a loss will not necessarily preclude them from playing in their first ever conference title game. Purdue has won back to back road games as an underdog, an area where they have excelled under Jeff Brohm. The Boilermakers are 20-10 ATS as an regular season underdog under Brohm with 13 outright wins. Meanwhile, they are 12-16 ATS as a regular season favorite with 12 outright losses! Purdue's consecutive road wins as an underdog have shifted the market too much. Nebraska is not as good as I thought they would be in the preseason, but they are good enough to keep this within two touchdowns. 

Utah -3.5 Southern Cal
It took some time for Utah to adjust to the rigors of a Pac-12 schedule. In their first seven seasons of Pac-12 play, the Utes actually posted a losing conference record in Salt Lake City (15-17)! However, since the start of the 2018 season (when they played in their first of three Pac-12 Championship Games), the Utes are 16-2 at home. One of those losses did come to Southern Cal in the pandemic shortened 2020 season, but in 'normal' regular seasons, the Utes are 14-1 at home in Pac-12 play since 2018. They have also won and covered all three meetings with the Trojans in Salt Lake City when they entered favored as they are in this game. Give credit to Southern Cal for starting the season 6-0, but this is by far their most significant road test. I think this spread tells you everything you need to know about the game. Southern Cal is unbeaten and ranked in the top ten, while Utah has two losses and is coming off a humbling defensive effort at UCLA. Yet the Utes are favored. I'll take Utah, even laying the hook to end Southern Cal's unbeaten run and make the Pac-12 race a little more interesting. 

Duke +7 North Carolina
After a brief absence, the ACC Wheel of Destiny has returned with a vengeance to the Coastal Division. North Carolina is all alone in first place with a half game lead over (checks notes) Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils lost to said Yellow Jackets last week, but can move into a first place tie by beating the Tar Heels on Saturday night. While the past two games in the series may have given you the impression that North Carolina has dominated it (wins by 32 and 31 points respectively), Duke covered in Chapel Hill (losing in overtime) three years ago and won in Durham in 2018. While North Carolina has moved the ball and scored seemingly at will since Mack Brown returned in 2019 (over 37 points per game), they have blown their fair share of games as a road favorite. The Tar Heels are 3-6-1 ATS as a road favorite in Brown's second stint, losing outright to four mediocre to bad teams in 2020 (Florida State and Virginia) and 2021 (Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech). Heck, a month ago, these same Tar Heels were laying an identical number at Georgia State. North Carolina is going to score, but no lead is safe with their defense. The Tar Heels have won all three of their road games this season, but no victory has come by more than a touchdown. I expect a similar result here. Take Duke and the points. 

New Mexico State +6.5 New Mexico
On a weekend that features three matchups of unbeaten Power 5 teams taking place in the early and late afternoon window, this might be a good palette cleanser in the evening. Assuming of course you can find the game. It is being aired by something called Flo Sports, so check you local listings. While the two teams from the Land of Enchantment are a combined 3-9 in 2022, this is a legitimate rivalry, with the first contest taking place before New Mexico even became a state! To better compare these two teams, I think we should toss out their results against Power Five and FCS teams. Being ground into dust by Minnesota and Wisconsin doesn't really give us an idea about how New Mexico State will fare against a team in their own weight class. Similarly, New Mexico's visit to Baton Rouge and their opener against Maine tell us very little about the Lobos. Once we remove those games, and look at the per play data for both teams, its easy to make a case for the Aggies from Las Cruces. New Mexico State has faced four G5 teams and while they are 1-3 in those games, they have actually outgained their opponents on a per play basis (5.21 to 4.73). In those four games, the Aggies have been done in by turnovers (-7 margin). Meanwhile, New Mexico is also 1-3 in their four games against G5 opponents, but the Lobos have been outgained by more than a full yard per play (4.12 to 5.18). The Lobos have fared better in the turnover department (+3), with most of that work coming against UTEP when they forced the Miners to cough the ball up seven times. I should note New Mexico has faced a more challenging foursome of opponents (Boise State, UNLV, UTEP, and Wyoming) as compared to New Mexico State (Florida International, Hawaii, Nevada, and UTEP), but I don't understand how the Lobos can be laying nearly a full touchdown on the road. Danny Gonzales is in his third season as head coach of the Lobos and after a decent showing in the abbreviated 2020 campaign where they averaged nearly 24 points per game, the offense has disappeared. The offense averaged just over 12 points per game last season and is currently averaging a shade over 19 this season (15 per game against FBS opponents). You can't lay a lot points, especially on the road, with an offense like that. I know New Mexico State looked like trash in their most recent outing, losing at home to FIU, but off a bye and playing at home, they are the play in this dumpster dive.  

Thursday, October 06, 2022

The Magnificent Seven: Week VI

Another week, another 3-4 record. Things have to turn around soon right? Home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 16-19 

Buffalo -2 Bowling Green
After an 0-3 start to the season that included a home loss to an FCS team, Buffalo has quietly won two in a row to get in position to contend for the MAC East crown. Last week's victory against Miami of Ohio required a fourth quarter comeback with Cole Snyder tossing the winning touchdown in the final minute. Buffalo was fortunate to catch Miami as they are without the services of Brett Gabbert. His backup, Aveon Smith, made some big plays on the ground, but was confounded by the forward pass and the Bulls beat what is likely the division's top team when healthy. Meanwhile, Bowling Green won their MAC opener last week. It marked the first time the Falcons opened conference play 1-0 since 2015, which is also their last winning season and last time they won the conference. Even in a conference as full of parity as the MAC, I would still pump the brakes on the conference title dreams. Akron is probably the worst team in the conference and while the Falcons did beat Marshall at home earlier in the year, the Thundering Herd outgained them by nearly 200 yards. And they also lost at home to an FCS team. After posting a quietly competent defense last season, Bowling Green is allowing over six and a half yards per play to FBS opponents this year. The Falcons do generate a lot of havoc, accumulating 20 sacks on the season, but every opponent except Akron has scored more than 30 points against them (and the Zips scored 28). Buffalo has not played like the 1985 Bears on defense either, allowing over seven yards per play to FBS opponents. However, their slate of opposing offenses has been a shade tougher and they won their games without the benefit of a fantastic turnover margin. Through five games, the Bulls are +1 in turnovers and in their two victories, they are even with two turnovers forced and committed. Meanwhile, through five games, the Falcons are +6 in turnovers and that good fortune has come almost entirely in their two victories where they are +5 (in games they won by a combined six points). Bowling Green is being propped up by an unsustainable turnover margin and you are getting the Bulls at a discount. Look for Buffalo to move to 3-0 in MAC play with relatively easy win. 

Missouri +11 Florida
Is it time to entertain the notion, no matter how far-fetched, that Missouri has a pretty good defense. Consider the following: They held Georgia to 26 points, the Bulldogs lowest point total in a regular season game since the 2021 season opener against Clemson. They held Auburn to 217 total yards at 3.3 yards per play the week prior. While they allowed 40 points to Kansas State in an embarrassing loss earlier in the season, their former Big 8 and Big 12 rival returned a punt for a touchdown and forced four Missouri turnovers allowing them to start three second half drives in Missouri territory. In three games against Power Five opponents, the Tigers are allowing 345 yards per game and 4.95 yards per play. The question here is, can they get off the mat after leading Georgia for the majority of last week's game before giving up the lead in the fourth quarter? There are certainly instances where a team struggles after leaving it all on the field against a highly ranked opponent (see Oregon State). However, unlike the Beavers, who succumbed to Southern Cal late in Corvallis and then were routed by Utah, Missouri was not unbeaten with designs on a conference title. The Tigers had already lost twice (once in conference play) and were already coming off a gut-wrenching loss. Florida looked great in a delayed home win against Eastern Washington where they posted an unholy 666 yards of total offense and scored 52 points. While the Eagles are an historically strong FCS program, they have allowed over 47 points per game this season. Florida's offense will encounter a lot more resistance this weekend and I expect Missouri to keep this one close as they typically have in their visits to Gainesville since joining the SEC. Missouri is 2-3 straight up against the Gators in Gainesvile, but 3-2 ATS. Their ATS losses both came in years that Florida won the SEC East (2016 and 2020). This Florida team is not at that level. Take Missouri to keep this one close. 

UCLA +3.5 Utah
There are four Pac-12 teams that are unbeaten in conference play and two of them square off in Pasadena on Saturday afternoon. UCLA has had a very advantageous schedule through the first part of 2022, playing four of their first five at home (plus this one) with the lone road trip coming against woeful Colorado. UCLA has played well against that home friendly schedule, scoring at least 32 points in each game and topping 40 points four times. I feel like the Bruins threw the betting market off their scent a few weeks ago when they nearly lost at home to South Alabama. The Jaguars have proven to be a solid G5 team, but I think the market is still punishing them. Case in point, they were a slight home underdog against a Washington that dominated a relatively soft early schedule. Washington was playing their first road game of the year and while the final margin was somewhat close, the Bruins controlled the game from the middle of the first quarter and were never in danger of losing. Can they continue their ascent under Chip Kelly against the defending Pac-12 champs (and preseason favorite)? Utah opened their season with a road loss against a Florida team the jury is still very much out on. They rebounded from that loss with easy victories against FCS and G5 opponents before catching Arizona State fresh off firing their coach and Oregon State off a heartbreaking loss. The Utes dominated Oregon State on the scoreboard last week, but the play by play stats were much closer. Utah took advantage of four Oregon State interceptions to run away from the Beavers in the second half. After forcing one turnover in their opening loss to Florida, the Utes have forced eleven over their past four games (+8 margin). If the Utes finish with an average turnover margin of +2 per game over the rest of the regular season, they should run the table. However, turnovers are often a fickle mistress, so the Utes are probably a little overvalued in the betting market. Personally, I think this game should be closer to a pick 'em. UCLA is 7-5 ATS as a home underdog under Chip Kelly, but if you look at the chronology of that record, you can see improvement. In Kelly's first two seasons, the Bruins were 3-4 ATS as a home underdog with two outright wins. Since the start of 2020, the Bruins are 4-1 ATS as a home underdog and in all four of their covers, they have won the game outright. And their lone loss was a devastating bad beat. I think Dorian Thompson-Robinson can tax Utah's defense much like Anthony Richardson did in the opener. Take the Bruins and the points. 

Duke -3.5 Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech began the post-Geoff Collins era with a victory as a massive underdog at Pitt last weekend. While it was a great victory for morale at Georgia Tech and made you feel good for alum and interim coach Brent Key, it was par for the course for Pitt. Since Narduzzi arrived in the Steel City in 2015, the Panthers have lost at home as a favorite of a touchdown or more six times, including five times since the beginning of 2019. Even when they were busy winning the ACC last year, they dropped two homes games, when a victory in either may have earned them a playoff bid. Plus, Georgia Tech's formula for victory is unlikely to be sustainable. The Yellow Jackets barely threw for 100 yards (102 to be exact). And if you were wondering, no, they did not revert to the triple option. They put the ball in the air 27 times and netted 102 yards (75 once we account for the four sacks that are inexplicably attributed to rushing yards in college football). Georgia Tech capitalized on three Pitt turnovers (plus a failed fourth down conversion) and still almost delivered a master class in blowing the game. From running out of bounds late in the fourth quarter to lackadaisical tackling with a double digit lead, the Yellow Jackets were fortunate to get the win even with all the help from the Panthers. I will say, it appears Georgia Tech emphasized special teams without Collins on the sideline as they made four field goals and did not have a single kick blocked in what seems like decades. Now the Yellow Jackets return home somehow just a half game out of first in the ACC Coastal. Those dreams will almost certainly be crushed by supper time on Saturday, but a nerdy engineer can dream of a rematch with Clemson for a few days at least. I will caution you that Duke has won two conference road games since the beginning of 2019 (Virginia Tech and Syracuse are the proud victims), but they appear to be quite improved under new coach Mike Elko. Plus the Blue Devils have already played two road games, beating Northwestern and hanging with unbeaten Kansas. This spread implies this game would be around a pick 'em on a neutral field. I don't buy that. The victory last week was nice, but Georgia Tech is still bad. Perhaps ACC bad, and not worst in the Power Five bad, but bad nonetheless. Take the Blue Devils to cover this small number. 

Iowa State +2 Kansas State
If he drops this game, it might be time to start a dialogue about Matt Campbell. The former hot young coach has struggled over the past season and a half, with the Cyclones posting a 10-8 record since the start of 2021. Normally, any record over .500 would be cause for celebration in Ames, but Campbell has raised expectations. Of those eight losses since the beginning of last season, six have come as a betting favorite, including both this season. The past two weeks, losses at home to Baylor and at Kansas, have featured penalties (the Cyclones committed eight for 78 yards against Baylor, several of which extended scoring drives), turnovers (two in each game and a combined margin of -3), and missed kicks (three missed field goals in the three point loss to Kansas). Even with those mistakes, the Cyclones lost both games by seven and three points respectively. Now, returning home, this looks like a good spot to sell Kansas State. The Wildcats are 3-0 against the three Power Five opponents they have faced (Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech), but they also have a +6 combined turnover margin in those games. I mentioned that Iowa State has struggled with turnovers in their two losses, but turnover margin, while having a dramatic impact on the outcome of a game, is not predictive going forward. Iowa State is 3-3 under Matt Campbell against Kansas State, but has won three of the last four, with their two most recent wins coming by double digits. Iowa State famously sent The Legend out a loser in his final game and I think the wrong team is favored in this spot. The Big 12 is deep and while that will likely prevent it from placing a team in the College Football Playoff, it should make for a very entertaining conference race. Take the Cyclones to pull the small upset in this edition of Farmageddon

Illinois -3.5 Iowa
Am I putting too much stock in what I last saw, or is it time to anoint Illinois as a contender in the Big 10 West? As of this writing, every team in the Big 10 West is 1-1 (except Wisconsin) and you could convince me any of five teams could be Ohio State's sacrificial lamb in the Big 10 Championship Game (Nebraska and Northwestern are the only two I can't see winning the division). While Iowa has the better defensive reputation in this game, I think its fair to say Illinois has performed better this season. The Illini have allowed under four yards per play in the early going and have held their last two Power Five opponents (Virginia and Wisconsin) to a combined 13 points. Iowa showed some signs of life in the second half of their loss to Michigan (scoring 14 points against the Wolverines), but this offense is bad until further notice. And offensively, Illinois has been far superior this season, with Chase Brown racking up 733 rushing yards at over six yards per carry. The Illini have not beaten Iowa since 2008 (lost last eight), but that was also the last time they were favored. I think the Illini win by about a touchdown and set up a huge divisional game next week when they host Minnesota. 

Louisiana-Monroe +13.5 Coastal Carolina
Guess how many times Coastal Carolina has been an underdog since the start of 2021? Zero. The Chanticleers, along with Ohio State, were the only teams to be favored in every game they played last season. Oddsmakers have yet to install them as underdogs in 2022 either. Coastal has not been an underdog since BYU made their infamous cross-country pilgrimage to Conway in 2020. However, despite being the darlings of oddsmakers, Coastal has not been a great bet as a favorite in that span. Against FBS opponents, the Chanticleers are 7-11 ATS (4-5 at home, 3-4 on the road, and 0-2 in neutral site games). They have been double digit favorites 14 times in that span, and are 5-9 ATS (4-5 at home, 2-3 on the road, and 0-1 in neutral site games). Their run as a favorite is likely to last two more games (this spot and home versus Old Dominion next week) and end on a pre-Halloween trip to Marshall. Of course, if the Thundering Herd look like they have the past few weeks, the streak could continue. But I digress. While the Chanticleers are unbeaten, they have struggled defensively, allowing every opponent to score at least 24 points against them. Quarterback Grayson McCall has been able to make up for those defensive deficiencies by averaging ten yards per pass. Despite McCall's greatness, Coastal is an option adjacent offense that loves to run the ball. And Louisiana-Monroe should be able to corral their running game. The Warhawks are allowing under four yards per carry on the season and that includes games against Texas and Alabama. Their two Sun Belt opponents have both averaged under three yards per carry and the Warhawks accumulated twenty tackles for loss in those two games. Louisiana-Monroe will be able to get into the backfield on some early down runs and force Coastal into third and longs. McCall will no doubt convert some (perhaps a lot) of them, but Louisiana-Monroe will hold Coastal to around their scoring average (36 points per game) and be able to move the ball well enough against Coastal's weak defense to generate at least 24 points of their own. They don't have the goods to win outright, but nearly two touchdowns is too many.