Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Magnificent Seven: Week I

Ladies and gentlemen, we made it. The longest offseason in sports is over and college football is back. Oh to be a rabid NASCAR fan with their abbreviated offseason. Alas, fellow degenerates, college football is our one true love, and for a brief time at least, it is back. For the uninitiated, in this weekly post, I will highlight seven games I think are worth wagering your hard earned money on. I will inevitably take too many dogs and end up with an overall record only slightly better than flipping a coin. Remember, its the journey, not the destination. I hope you gain a little insight, laugh (or at least chuckle) a little, and maybe win some money from your bookie. As always, home teams in bold. 

Central Michigan +14 Michigan State
When the epitaph is written on Mel Tucker's coaching career, how much of an outlier will 2021 be? For perspective, Tucker is 23-21 as a head coach at Colorado and Michigan State. However, outside of that 2021 season when the Spartans finished 11-2 with a Peach Bowl victory and top ten ranking, his teams are 12-19 with zero winning seasons. Tucker certainly capitalized on that 2021 campaign, if not on the recruiting trail, at last at the bank. No shade to the man. My dream is to be standing in the general vicinity when some good shit happens and subsequently get all the credit for something that may have been largely out of my control. If Tucker has designs on getting the Spartans back to a bowl, he will need to do some work in the early portion of the non-con. Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State are on the conference slate and future conference mate Washington pays a visit to East Lansing in a few weeks. The Spartans are 4-0 against Group of Five and FCS opponents under Tucker, winning each game by double digits. However, I don't think Central Michigan will be your typical tomato can the Spartans can easily knock over. Jim McElwain enters his fifth season at Central Michigan and eighth overall as a Group of Five head coach (he spent three seasons at Colorado State a decade ago before getting the Florida job). His charges have performed well against Power Five opponents. At Colorado State, his teams were 4-1 ATS against Power Five schools (3-2 straight up) in the regular season. At Central Michigan, his teams have yet to win a game outright against a Power Five opponent in the regular season, but are 6-2 ATS. And lest we forget, he has beaten Washington State in bowl games in the american southwest at both of his G5 stops. Michigan State has more talent, but they are unsettled at the most important position on the field. I expect the Spartans to try to run the ball at the Chippewas, which while likely successful, will keep the clock moving and result in fewer possessions. Central Michigan will probably do their share of running as well, particularly if Bert Emanuel Jr. wins the starting quarterback job. Even if he doesn't, I expect Emanuel to see significant action in some gimmick packages. The Chippewas will be able to score enough points to keep this within two touchdowns. 

Georgia Tech +7.5 Louisville (@ Atlanta)
This game is at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and not historic Bobby Dodd Stadium, so its not technically a home game for the Yellow Jackets. That being said, Georgia Tech is in good position to cover this number for a few reasons. Louisville has been getting some offseason love as sleeper team, but that has more to do with their schedule and upgrade at head coach rather than drastic improvement in their team composition. The Cardinals were inconsistent last season and for the duration of the Scott Satterfield regime, but they did lose some significant talent off last year's team. Quarterback Malik Cunningham was a dynamic dual threat and the defensive created a ton of havoc with Yasir Abdullah and YaYa Diaby combining for nearly 30 tackles for loss. Abullah and Diaby were both selected in April's NFL Draft and Cunningham is trying to catch on with the New England Patriots. Jack Plummer will be replacing Cunningham at quarterback, and while Plummer has plenty of experience, he has been slightly above average throughout his college career. And all of his value is tied up in his passing. He lacks any playmaking ability with his legs, having accumulated negative rushing yards in his college career. I expect Jeff Brohm to have success at Louisville, but I don't think he should be laying more than a touchdown in his first game against a conference opponent on the (semi) road. Plus, if you examine Brohm's career at Purdue, his teams performed much better in the underdog role. Over his six seasons in West Lafayette, his teams were just 13-19 ATS as a favorite in the regular season, but were 21-11 ATS as an underdog. Finally, while I didn't love the Brent Key hire, and gave some reasons for that in an offseason post, you have to acknowledge that he shored up the Georgia Tech special teams and made the Yellow Jackets a competent Power Five team. In fact, the Yellow Jackets were 5-1 ATS as an underdog under Key. I don't think Georgia Tech is good enough to get to a bowl game this season, but they will be a tough out against the non-elite teams they play this season. 

Bowling Green +10 Liberty
Last season, in mid-November, Liberty was 8-1 and fresh off a road win against an SEC team. At 19th in the AP Poll, the Flames were the second highest ranked Group of Five team. Thankfully, one of the most hateable universities in the world wheezed to the finish line, losing their final three regular season games while helping Connecticut and New Mexico State gain bowl eligibility. They lost their bowl game for good measure and finished 8-5. In the midst of the skid, Hugh Freeze bolted for Auburn and the Flames selected Jamey Chadwell from Coastal Carolina to be their new head coach. Chadwell has a solid track record as a head coach, but unfortunately, he was not able to bring Grayson McCall with him from Conway. Coastal's performance under Chadwell with and without McCall should make Liberty fans a little wary. The Flames play an absurdly easy schedule in 2023, but the quarterback talent on the roster is a definite downgrade from what Chadwell was working with a few hours south. I expect the Flames to be contenders in Conference USA, but they won't be running roughshod over the league. And I think they will have some trouble getting margin in their opener. Like most new coaches, Chadwell will be bringing his own system to Liberty and while the Flames have had all offseason to practice, live action is different. Not that Bowling Green presents a formidable opponent, but the Falcons have been more competitive of late under Scott Loeffler. Bowling Green began Loeffler's tenure with a 2-16 record against FBS opponents, but they are a more respectable 9-12 since. That competitiveness has translated to a very good mark at the betting window. Since the start of 2021, the Falcons are 5-2 ATS as a road underdog against Group of Five opponents. The Falcons figure to have plenty of losses on their schedule this season, including this one. However, they will not go gentle into that good midday. 

Colorado +20.5 TCU
I'm not sold on Coach Prime as an FBS head coach just yet, but I think there is value on the Buffaloes in this spot for a few reasons. For starters, these teams opened the 2022 season in Boulder and TCU was favored by 14 points. Obviously, TCU ended up being much better than we thought, advancing all the way to the College Football Playoff and eventually the national title game. Meanwhile, Colorado was much worse than we thought, finishing 1-11 and losing ten games by double digits. If you dole out three points for homefield advantage, that means this spread is about one point higher than the spread in last season's opener. I don't think you will get an argument from anyone that this TCU team is not as good as last season's. The Horned Frogs had eight players picked in the most recent iteration of the NFL Draft, including their leading receiver, leading rusher, starting quarterback, and top sacker. Meanwhile, its almost impossible to quantify how good Colorado will be in 2023 thanks to their massive roster turnover, but they almost certainly will be better than last season, especially early on. Depth will likely be an issue as the season progresses, but the Buffaloes should be plenty feisty in the opener and anxious to show the nation what they can be. Take Colorado to cover this massive number and potentially set the bar too high for Deion's Power Five debut season. 

Colorado State +12 Washington State
Life moves pretty fast. Exactly six years ago, Colorado State opened their brand new stadium in Week Zero against a Pac-12 team. Coming off consecutive 7-6 campaigns, the Rams dominated Oregon State and appeared to be your Mountain West favorite heading into conference play. After a 4-0 league start, the Rams dropped three of their final four regular season games, including an absurd home loss to Boise State. They also dropped the bowl game to finish 7-6 for the third consecutive year. The bottom fell out in 2018 and Mike Bobo was fired after the 2019 season. The Rams made the curious decision to hire Steve Addazio and mercifully fired him after a 4-12 record across two seasons. They poached Jay Norvell from fellow Mountain West member Nevada and won three games in 2022. For those keeping score at home, the Rams are 14-38 over the past five seasons. However, if you squinted, you could see improvement at the end of last year. After an embarrassing home loss to Sacramento State dropped them to 0-4, the Rams actually covered six of their eight conference games. Along the way, they played solid defense, holding five league opponents below twenty points. The offense never got going, failing to score twenty points in any game last season! However, I expect a big second year leap for the Rams. At Norvell's previous stop, Nevada finished 3-9 in his first season, but won seven regular season games in his second. Colorado State may not double their win total, but they will flirt with bowl eligibility. Jay Norvell's teams have performed quite well as a home underdog. At Nevada and Colorado State, his teams are a combined 9-2 ATS in the role and have even pulled an outright upset against a Power Five team as a double digit underdog. Washington State has not laid double digits on the road since a trip to Corvallis in 2018. This is too many points for a middling Power Five team to lay on the road. 

West Virginia +20.5 Penn State
Is this the end of the line for Neal Brown? The West Virginia head coach enters his fifth season in Morgantown having notched just one winning season (the 2020 Covid year). Despite his offensive bona fides (his last three Troy teams all averaged north of thirty points per game), his two Mountaineer teams that made it to bowl season won with defense. Then when his offense finally got going last season, the defense regressed by nearly ten points per game. This year's schedule features eleven Power Five teams and just one guaranteed win (Duquesne). With the Dukes, Nittany Lions, and Pitt Panthers on the schedule, the Mountaineers are playing all their non-conference games against their neighbors in the Keystone State (so smooth). The Nittany Lions are expected to contend for the Big 10 title this season and if this game were played later in the year, I would be more inclined to lay this big number. Penn State's presumed starting quarterback, Drew Allar, has a higher ceiling than last year's starter Sean Clifford, but despite his alleged lack of upside, Clifford was a four year starter who left as the school's all-time leading passer. Allar may surpass him eventually, but I think there will be a bit of a learning curve, especially against a Power Five team. Allar will probably look like a Heisman contender the next week when Penn State hosts Delaware, but I expect a disjointed effort against the Mountaineers. I'm not calling for a West Virginia upset, but laying three touchdowns is a lot to ask of an inexperienced quarterback against a decent opponent. Plus, I think West Virginia will lean on the ground game with a mobile starting quarterback (Garrett Greene Jr.) taking over. More running means fewer clock stoppages and fewer possessions. That means less time for Penn State to get margin. 

San Jose State +16.5 Oregon State
No one was able to see it because it was 'televised' on the Pac-12 Network, but I think San Jose State acquitted themselves reasonably well against the Trojans. The Spartans gave up 56 points to Southern Cal and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but they also scored 28 points of their own while averaging six yards per play. Now, with a game under their belt they get to host a Power Five (for the moment) team in their brand new stadium. The Spartans have been a good bet as a home underdog under Brent Brennan, going 8-6-1 overall, including 5-1-1 as a double digit underdog. Meanwhile, this is the most points Oregon State has been laying away from Corvallis since they played an eventual 1-11 Washington State team in Pullman in 2009 (favored by 31). The Beavers have been very successful under Jonathan Smith, participating in back-to-back bowl games. However, they have only been road favorites five times under Smith and are 1-4 ATS (0-1 as a double digit favorite). Southern Cal, San Jose State's first opponent, attracts world class talent to succeed. Oregon State develops talent. That's not to say the Beavers don't have good players, just that San Jose State will not be as overwhelmed personnel wise as they were against Southern Cal. Oregon State has a chance to contend in the final year of the Pac-12 as we know it, but I wouldn't be shocked if they are in a fight for their metaphorical lives on Sunday afternoon. 

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Strangers in the Field VIII

Another year, another Vegas trip. Read on for my investment portfolio.

College Football Plays

Over/Under Win Totals
I made a ton of college football win total bets (39 in all), so I figured it would be easier to group them by conference rather than going down the lost alphabetically. 

AAC Plays
East Carolina over 5.5 wins ($25 to win $50)
Call this a 'trust in Mike Houston' bet. The Pirates lost their long-time quarterback and have a tough schedule, but I think they can eke out bowl eligibility. 

Memphis over 7.5 wins ($40 to win $65)
Its now or never for Ryan Silverfield. With the departures of Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF, I think the Tigers are poised to in the AAC. 

Navy under 6.5 wins ($25 to win $41.65)
The Midshipmen have won eight games over the past two seasons. They would have to win seven for me to lose this bet. They will spring an upset or two, but I don't think that will be enough for them to eclipse six regular season wins. 

Temple over 5.5 wins ($25 to win $55)
The Owls played well down the stretch last season. Despite losing four of their final five games, three of the losses came by a touchdown or less. I think the Owls coalesce in their second season under Stan Drayton. 

Tulane under 9 wins ($40 to win $80)
I really wanted nine and a half, but I think the Green Wave are much more likely to win eight than ten. Prior to last season, they had not won more than six games in the regular season under Willie Fritz.

ACC Plays
Boston College over 5.5 ($25 to win $43.50)
Boston College over 5.5 ($25 to win $46.75)
I bet this number at two different places after I saw the price was still good. Boston College will not have as many injuries along their offensive line as they did last season and they could very easily go 4-0 in the non-conference portion of their schedule meaning they just need to find a pair of ACC victories to cash this ticket. 

Georgia Tech under 4.5 ($60 ton win $102.85)
If you read my ACC offseason recap, you know I think their success under Brent Key was mostly smoke and mirrors. The ceiling on this team is six wins. I don't think they get close to that number. 

North Carolina under 8.5 ($40 to win $65.80)
The Tar Heels have three tricky non-conference games (South Carolina, Appalachian State, and Minnesota), so a loss is not out of the question. Plus they close with road games against Clemson and NC State. This team will win their share of shootouts, but I think they lose at least four times. 

Virginia Tech over 5.5 ($25 to win $62.50)
There are s lot of tossups on this schedule and I think the Hokies win enough of them to get back to a bowl. 

Wake Forest over 6 ($40 to win $76.35)
The loss of Sam Hartman will hurt, but Wake has quietly put together six consecutive seasons of averaging at least 30 points per game on offense. The Deacons should be 4-0 before the schedule stiffens considerably. I expect at least one home upset (Florida State, NC State, or Pitt) and another bowl campaign. 

Big 10 Plays
Michigan under 10.5 ($40 to win $78.10)
The Wolverines were not quite as good as their unbeaten record would indicate last season and while the non-conference schedule is soft, there are five tricky to difficult conference road games before they face Ohio State (Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Penn State). 

Big 12 Plays
Houston over 4.5 ($25 to win $44.25)
I expect the Cougars to struggle adjusting to Power Five life, but their non-conference slate has three winnable games (UTSA, Rice, and Sam Houston) and they have five conference homes games. 

Iowa State over 5.5 ($300 to win $572.75)
Oooh boy. If I could have one bet back. I will take solace in the fact that Hunter Dekkers was below average by Big 12 standards last season, so the unknown quantity at quarterback may be an upgrade. Still, I don't feel great about this one. 

TCU under 7.5 ($25 to win $55)
The Horned Frogs won't be as fortunate in close games and opposing quarterback injuries this season. Also, watch out for the non-conference game against SMU. The Mustangs have beaten the Horned Frogs in their past two visits to Fort Worth. 

Texas Tech under 7.5 ($25 to win $45)
Not buying the hype. Last season, they finished with a winning conference record for the first time since 2009! Even if they finish with another winning league record, there are two tough non-conference games on the schedule (Wyoming and Oregon). 

CUSA Plays
Louisiana Tech over 5.5 wins ($40 to win $62.85)
The Bulldogs will probably lose three of their four non-conference games, but there are wins to be had in the watered down Conference USA

Middle Tennessee State under 6.5 ($25 to win $48.80)
I've been a Blue Raider stan the past two seasons, but the Blue Raiders will definitely lose two non-conference games and could lose three (Alabama, Colorado State, and Missouri). They also face Liberty and Western Kentucky on the road in league play. I think seven wins is the ceiling for this team.

UTEP over 5.5 wins ($60 to win $106.15)
The Miners could get halfway to their win total in non-conference play (Arizona, Incarnate Word, Northwestern, and UNLV). Plus their road conference schedule features two FBS newbies (Jacksonville State and Sam Houston). The Miners are a real sleeper in Conference USA.

MAC Plays
Akron over 4 wins ($300 to win $600)
I really wanted three and a half, but I think the Zips are poised for a meteoric rise in 2023 in their second season under Joe Moorhead. 

Bowling Green under 4.5 wins ($60 to win $129)
After winning seven games under Scot Loeffler in his first three seasons, the Falcons won seven in 2022 despite being outscored by nine points per game. I expect serious regression in 2023. 

Buffalo under 6 wins ($25 to win $53.75)
The Bulls barely eked out bowl eligibility last season and I think this team is worse with a more difficult schedule. 

Central Michigan over 5.5 wins ($25 to win $46.75)
Maybe this is a square take, but I think Bert Emanuel Jr. could lead the Chippewas to a MAC title in 2023. 

Ohio under 7.5 wins ($25 to win $50)
I'll take a flyer on regression for the Bobcats who are dealing with the return of an injured quarterback and a tough non-conference schedule (Florida Atlantic, Iowa State, and San Diego State). 

Mountain West Plays
Colorado State over 4.5 wins ($25 to win $41.65)
The Rams will be better in Jay Norvell's second season and should contend for a bowl bid. 

Fresno State under 8.5 wins ($25 to win $43.50)
The Bulldogs will miss Jake Haener and play two Power Five teams on the road (Arizona State and Purdue). 

New Mexico over 3 wins ($40 to win $69.65)
New Mexico over 3.5 wins ($25 to win $55)
The Lobos lost all their Mountain West games last season despite a solid first half point differential. If the offense can go from bad to slightly below average, this team could get to a bowl game. They added UAB transfer Dylan Hopkins to play quarterback in the offseason. Hopkins joins his former coach Bryant Vincent (interim last season at UAB) who is the new offensive coordinator. 

Wyoming over 5.5 wins ($40 to win $76.35)
The Cowboys have won at least six regular season games in each of the past six non-Covid regular seasons. I'll bet on that consistency continuing. 

Pac-12 Plays
Oregon under 9.5 wins ($25 to win $44.25)
Utah under 8.5 wins ($25 to win $42.25)
Washington under 9.5 wins ($25 to win $42.25)
Nassim Nicholas Talib has spilled copious amounts of ink encouraging investors to be 'antifragile'. I think betting against the top of the Pac-12 is a perfect example of this. First a little background. Last season the Pac-12 was quite strong. There were six good to very good teams (Oregon, Oregon State, Southern Cal, UCLA, Utah, and Washington). Those teams combined to lose just two games against the other six teams in the conference. I think a few of those bottom six teams will improve significantly this season. Arizona had a great offense last season. Arizona State made a great potential hire in Kenny Dillingham. Cal always has a strong defense under Justin Wilcox. Colorado is the biggest wildcard in college football with their roster turnover. Stanford...well, maybe not Stanford. And Washington State posted a great first half point differential last season despite their middling record. Some improvement among those six teams means more potential losses for the top teams. Plus, each member of this trio has some signs of regressions. Oregon lost their offensive coordinator to Arizona State. Utah's starting quarterback suffered a major injury in their bowl game and the Utes face two Power Five teams in the non-conference (Baylor and Florida). And Washington went from unranked in the preseason to a top ten finish last season. 

Stanford over 2.5 wins ($25 to win $44.25)
The Cardinal will probably be bad in 2023, but their coach had great success at the FCS level and the non-conference schedule includes both Hawaii and Sacramento State. If the Cardinal win both, they will need to win just a single Pac-12 game to eclipse this modest win total. 

SEC Plays
LSU under 9.5 wins ($25 to win $50)
By YPP LSU was one of the worst teams to play in the SEC Championship Game last season. I think they are due for some regression in Brian Kelly's second year. 

Sun Belt Plays
Appalachian State over 6.5 wins ($300 to win $506.90)
The Mountaineers finished with their worst record as an FBS teams last season (6-6). However, five of those six losses came by a touchdown or less. I think they bounce back this season. 

Arkansas State over 4.5 wins ($40 to win $72)
I think the Red Wolves get it done in Year 3 under Butch Jones. And by get it done, I mean almost get to a bowl.

Georgia State over 5.5 wins ($40 to win $98)
The Panthers have a chance to begin the season 3-0 (Charlotte, Connecticut, and Rhode Island). If they do, I think they have a great shot at getting to a bowl.

South Alabama under 7.5 wins ($25 to win $46.75)
The Jaguars won seven Sun Belt games last season, but five of those wins came by a touchdown or less. I think regression comes for the Jaguars in 2023. 

Troy under 8.5 wins ($25 to win $47.70)
Troy has a fantastic defense last season as evidenced by them winning games despite scoring under twenty points five times. A little slippage on defense will result in more defeats. 

College Football Game of the Year Lines

September 15
Michigan State +10.5 Washington ($25 to win $47.75)
What a difference a year makes. Last offseason, Michigan State was a slight favorite in Seattle. Now they are catching double digits at home. I make this spread about a touchdown so I will take a little value in the Spartans. 

October 7
Minnesota +13.5 Michigan ($25 to win $47.75)
I mentioned Michigan has some tricky road games and this certainly qualifies. The Wolverines play their first road game at Nebraska the week before while Minnesota faces Louisiana-Lafayette. 

November 4
Army +9.5 Air Force @ Denver ($25 to win $47.75)
Two service academies facing each other with a spread greater than a touchdown always entices me to take the underdog. 

November 11 
Iowa State +8.5 Texas ($25 to win $47.75)
As I mentioned in the Iowa State write up, I don't feel great about this one. However, if you need a coach to blow a winnable game on the road, Steve Sarkisian is one of your better choices. 

College Football Futures

Akron to win MAC +3000 ($10 to win $300)
The MAC is the perfect conference to take a longshot and the Zips appear to be the perfect team to back in that role in 2023. 

Memphis to win AAC +800 ($10 to win $80)
The AAC is weaker with the departures of Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF to the Big 12. I think Memphis is poised to rise in that power vacuum. 

UTEP to win CUSA +1000 ($10 to win $100)
Conference USA is also weaker with the departure of six programs to the AAC. Western Kentucky is probably the best team in the league, but no team seems head and shoulders above the rest. 

College Football Parlay ($20 to win $507.20 -- all must hit)

August 26th 
Massachusetts +9 New Mexico State
Should New Mexico State be laying nearly double digits against any FBS team?

September 2nd
Fresno State +5.5 Purdue
I think Fresno will regress in 2023, but Purdue is trending downward as well. 

Colorado +20 TCU
Colorado is one of the great unknowns heading into 2023. I don't think they will win a lot of games this season, but they should be better. 

North Texas +10 California
This is a dangerous road trip for Cal. The Bears always struggle to score points, so should not be laying double digits on the road. 

Virginia +28 Tennessee @ Nashville
I think Tennessee will take a step back offensively, particularly early in the season, so I'll begrudgingly take Virginia catching four touchdowns. 

NFL Plays

Over/Under Win Totals

Atlanta Falcons under 8.5 wins ($25 to win $56.25)
The Falcons finished 7-10 last season and despite the general expected weakness of the NFC South, I don't see them finishing 2023 with a winning record. 

Carolina Panthers under 7.5 wins ($25 to win $51.25)
The Panthers somehow won seven games last season despite a midseason coaching change. Now they appear to have a quality coach, but I think their rookie quarterback with have some growing pains. 

Los Angeles Rams over 6.5 wins ($25 to win $53.75)
The Rams went from Super Bow champion to 5-12 also ran. I think they bounceback somewhat in 2023. 

Minnesota Vikings under 8.5 wins ($25 to win $52.50)
The Vikings won 13 games last season, but were actually outscored on the season. I think their record this season is more indicative of last season's scoring margin. 

MLB Division

Tampa Bay Rays to win AL East ($20 to win $31.45)
The Rays were tied with the Orioles when I made this bet, but they have lost a starting pitcher to Tommy John surgery, a position player to the exempt list, and the Orioles have been on fire. 

Texas Rangers to win AL West ($20 to win $30.80)
The Rangers had a two game lead and a great run differential when I made this bet and they have maintained both thus far. 

Thanks for reading my annual Vegas trip summary. The season gets underway in ten days with Week Zero. There won't be enough games for spread picks, but I'll be back with weekly picks in a little under two weeks.