Another losing week which makes three in four weeks. We'll try and close September strong and do better the rest of the way.
Last Week: 3-4
Akron -2.5 Buffalo
Through a month of the 2023 regular season and most of non-conference play, it is clear there are three good teams in the MAC: Miami, Ohio, and Toledo. Everyone else is some level of trash. Both the Zips and Bulls fit that description. Buffalo is winless, having lost at home to an FCS team. Akron has a victory, but it came against an FCS team and was downright miraculous. This is a momentous occasion for Akron as it marks the first time the Zips have been favored against an FBS team since 2020 (they won that game in blowout fashion BTW). Normally, I would be hesitant to back a team in a role they are not accustomed to, but Akron has been nearing a breakthrough since MAC play started last season. The Zips finished 1-7 in conference play last season, but five of their seven losses came by a touchdown or less. That trend has continued thus far in the early going as the Zips lost tight games to Temple and Indiana. Neither the Owls nor the Hoosiers will be making an appearance in the College Football Playoff, but both are better than your average MAC team. And Buffalo is no average MAC team. The Bulls have been atrocious on defense this season, allowing nearly 45 points per game against a non-conference slate that featured just one Power Five opponent. Not only do the Bulls have one of the worst defenses in the country, they are also at a significant disadvantage at head coach. The Bulls are coached by Maurice Linguist, a young black man (which college football needs more of at this particular position), but he coaches like an old white man. In their loss to Fordham, the Bulls faced fourth and two from the Fordham 37 (in a game where the Bulls had already scored 37 points). Linguist trotted his admittedly good kicker out to try a 54-yard field goal and you can guess how that turned out. I think the struggling Akron offense will get right in this spot and Linguist will be one step closer to joining the unemployment line.
Florida +1 Kentucky
Kentucky is 4-0 for the third consecutive season and just outside the latest AP poll. A victory against the Gators would likely move the Wildcats into the poll for the fourth consecutive season (the AP Poll from 2020 was weird, but the Wildcats were in it before their first game). The Wildcats have been impressive against their soft early slate, outscoring their first four opponents by a combined 90 points. The best victory amongst that quartet is either last week's road win against Vanderbilt or their home win against Akron. Which is to say, their schedule thus far has not been nearly as taxing as Florida's. The Gators lost to Utah in their opener and looked all kinds of undisciplined, but they have rebounded to win three in a row, including a home victory against Tennessee. After breaking a 31-game losing streak to the Gators in 2018, the Wildcats have won three of five in this series, with two of those victories coming in The Swamp. Of course, the flip side to that means the Wildcats have beaten Florida in Lexington just once (2021) since 1986. In their three recent victories, the Wildcats pulled outright upsets. They are in an unusual position, entering the game as favorites. I like to fade teams facing unusual circumstances. I think the Gators are a good play in this spot, especially with Billy Napier's success as a road underdog. During his time at Louisiana-Lafayette and Florida, Napier's teams are 11-4-1 ATS as a road underdog with six outright wins. Make it lucky number seven on Saturday.
Houston +8.5 Texas Tech
Texas Tech came into the 2023 season riding a four-game winning streak to close 2022. Some fancied the Red Raiders as a darkhorse team in the Big 12. Their opener at Wyoming was tricky, especially with Pac-12 contender Oregon coming to Lubbock the next week. Texas Tech seemed to be clicking as they scored the first 17 points and looked to be on their way to a blowout victory. They would score just three more points in regulation as the offensively challenged Cowboys tied the score and won in overtime. Undaunted by the setback, Texas Tech battled Oregon to the bitter end before losing 38-30 on a late defensive score. They handled their business against Tarleton State of the FCS and opened Big 12 play against West Virginia last week with their goals of a Big 12 title still in front of them. Then quarterback Tyler Shough got hurt and the offense mustered just 13 points in a loss to the Mountaineers. At 1-3, the Red Raiders will have their work cut out for them to qualify for a bowl, much less match last year's win total. The Red Raiders are rightly favored at home against a mediocre at best Houston team. However, ten points is too much for a team that will probably struggle to score a lot of points the remainder of the season without Shough. In limited action against Tarleton State and West Virginia, his backup, Behren Morton has completed less than half his passes and averaged about four and a half yards per throw. If you are laying more than a touchdown, the team you are betting on probably needs to get to 30 points, and I don't see Texas Tech doing that. In addition, while Houston has performed poorly under Dana Holgorsen overall ATS, the one role they have excelled in has been a road underdog. In that spot, they are 8-4 ATS. These teams have played non-conference games each of the past two years (with Texas Tech winning both), but the spreads were much tighter (even and four points). This one should be less than a touchdown as well.
Arkansas State +1 Massachusetts
Is Butch Jones about to save his job? More precisely, is a freshman quarterback going to help Butch Jones save his job? After offensive no-shows against Oklahoma and Memphis (three combined points) and passing struggles versus Stony Brook, Jones turned the quarterbacking duties over to freshman Jaylen Raynor. Raynor only aired it out six times against the Sea Wolves, but he passed for 78 yards and got the start for the Red Wolves in their conference opener against Southern Miss. Raynor was not efficient through the air against Southern Miss (completed slightly more than half his passes), but he hit big plays, averaging over eleven yards per throw. He also ran well, rushing for nearly 100 yards on 17 carries. The Red Wolves needed every bit of it since their defense allowed 37 points. The defense has been bad for the duration of Jones' tenure and things don't appear to be changing. If the Red Wolves are to compete for a bowl bid, they will have to outscore teams. Raynor should have another good game against a Massachusetts defense that has been carved up all season. The Minutemen held Eastern Michigan to 19 points (and yet still lost), but their other four FBS opponents have averaged 41 points per game against them. The Minutemen may also not be in a good place mentally after last week. They staged a second half rally to tie New Mexico and send the game to overtime, where they eventually lost thanks to a controversial pass interference call. Head coach Don Brown was so upset he got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Minutemen have dropped four in a row after their road victory against New Mexico State in Week Zero. I think the Red Wolves make it five in a row on Saturday.
Ole Miss +2.5 LSU
After last week's loss to Alabama, Ole Miss has now dropped eight in a row to the Crimson Tide after beating them in back to back years (2014 and 2015). The Rebels were held to 301 total yards and averaged under five yards per play for just the sixth time under Lane Kiffin (Alabama responsible for three of those occurrences). The good news for the Rebels is moving the ball should not be a problem this week against LSU. The Tigers had an average SEC defense last season, ranking sixth in yards allowed per play and early returns against good offenses do not portend much improvement. Florida State averaged nearly seven and a half yards per play against the Tigers (for comparison, the Seminoles averaged five and a half yards per play in their victory against Clemson) and Arkansas averaged more yards per play against the Tigers (6.26) than they did against Western Carolina, Kent State, or BYU. It took a virtuoso performance from Jayden Daniels for LSU to eke out the victory. Beginning with their penultimate drive of the first half, LSU scored on their final six possessions (two field goals and four touchdowns) and managed to beat Arkansas at home by three points. LSU has won five of their last nine trips to Oxford, but any time in recent history when the Rebels have fielded a quality team, they have managed to knock off the Tigers at home. The Tigers victories in Oxford post Nick Saban came in 2005, 2007, 2011, 2017, and 2019. LSU was national championship caliber in both 2011 and 2019, but in those five seasons, Ole Miss did not finish better than 6-6. The Rebels managed victories in 2009, 2013, 2015, and 2021. Their worst record in that quartet of years was 8-5. This a good Ole Miss team playing at home against a bad defense. Take the Lane Train to victory junction.
Southern Miss +6 Texas State
Texas State is halfway toward qualifying for their first bowl game as an FBS team. The Bobcats finished bowl-eligible in 2013 and 2014 under Dennis Franchione but were not selected. With the glut of bowl games on the docket a decade later, that will probably not be a problem if Texas State gets to six wins in 2023. While the Bobcats are halfway home when it comes to getting to six wins, Southern Miss has yet to beat an FBS team and is riding a three-game skid after their season-opening victory over Alcorn State. On paper, Texas State appears to be the much stronger team, having outscored their first four opponents by about two touchdowns per game. Meanwhile, Southern Miss has been outscored by about the same margin through their first four games. However, this is where schedule strength needs to be taken into account. Texas State has beaten Baylor (who is probably not as good as we thought in the preseason), but their other games have come against an underachieving UTSA, Jackson State sans Deion, and Nevada (winless thus far in 2023). Meanwhile, Southern Miss has faced the previously mentioned Alcorn State, but also Florida State and Tulane. They did lose at Arkansas State last week, but the Seminoles and Green Wave are far better than any team Texas State has faced. Texas State has been a road favorite just one other time since Franchione left following the 2015 season. It came in 2020 against a Louisiana-Monroe team that finished winless. The Bobcats are much improved under GJ Kinne, but they should not be laying close to a touchdown on the road in conference play.
TCU -12 West Virginia
On the surface, West Virginia appears to have turned a corner defensively. The Mountaineers allowed 33 points per game last season and after allowing 38 points to Penn State in their opener, have held their past three opponents to 36 total points. However, those three games all deserve a deeper dive. The Mountaineers allowed 17 points to Duquesne, an FCS team. For context, the Dukes have played another FBS opponent (Coastal Carolina) and scored seven points in that game. West Virginia allowed six points to their Backyard Brawl rival Pittsburgh. That total does represent the Panthers lowest output on the season, but Pittsburgh has been terribly disappointing offensively. Finally, the Mountaineers allowed 13 points to Texas Tech. However, the majority of that game came against a backup quarterback. The Mountaineers have improved defensively in 2023, but that improvement is not quite as profound as the raw numbers make it appear. While the defense has improved, the offense has averaged just 17 points per game against FBS competition. On the other sideline, TCU has gotten their act together since an opening loss to Colorado. I expected TCU to suffer a significant decline after their charmed run to the national title game last season. While they will likely drop another game or two, they will probably eclipse their preseason win total (7.5) much to my chagrin. Since losing to Colorado, TCU has not been challenged by Nicholls State or two decent to good FBS teams (Houston and SMU). In fact, if not for two redzone turnovers against Colorado, the Horned Frogs would probably be 4-0 and close to the top ten. West Virginia leads the series 6-5 since both teams joined the Big 12 in 2012 and the Mountaineers have actually won five of the past seven and are 3-2 in Fort Worth. However, most of those games came against the Gary Patterson version of the Horned Frogs. The team is under new management and Sonny Dykes is 13-6 as a home favorite at SMU and TCU and as long as this spread is below two touchdowns, the Frogs are the play.