Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Magnificent Seven: Week IX

You know those people who say 'it gets better'? Well, that is not always the case. The hits just keep on coming. We had some bad picks and some bad beats and it all adds up to a 1-6 week. We'll try and do better this week (would be hard to do worse). 

Last Week: 1-6
Overall: 21-34-1

Kansas +10 Oklahoma
Speaking in purely technical terms, this Oklahoma team just seems gettable. Don't they? The Sooners are unbeaten and will likely be favored in their final five regular season games, but they don't seem elite to me. SMU was within one score of them in the fourth quarter in Norman, they scored twenty points on the road at Cincinnati, and they needed a fourth quarter comeback to knock off UCF last week. Perhaps they are a team of destiny, or perhaps it all falls apart on Saturday in Lawrence, Kansas. Oklahoma has played two road games thus far in 2023 and Kansas is by far their stiffest road test. They play at Oklahoma State next week in the last edition of Bedlam for the foreseeable future, so the Cowboys may end up being the best team the Sooners play on the road. Still, the difference between the Cowboys and Jayhawks is slight, but both are much better than Cincinnati and Tulsa. Even with their backup quarterback, Kansas will be able to move the ball against Oklahoma. Can they make enough stops to cover this number and potentially win outright? I think so. Kansas actually has a better per play differential in Big 12 action than Oklahoma (+0.49 versus +0.26) and they will be primed to get to bowl eligibility for a second consecutive season. Take the Jayhawks and don't be surprised if we see another top ten upset on Saturday. 

Virginia +19 Miami
Both the Cavaliers and Hurricanes are off massive wins. Virginia pulled a road upset against a top ten North Carolina squad while Miami beat Clemson for the first time since 2010 (only played five times since though). The victory halted a two game skid for Miami, represented their first home conference win under Mario Cristobal, and gave their faint ACC Championship Game hopes a little life. Before the ACC scrapped divisions, the Hurricanes and Cavaliers were both residents of the ACC Coastal and thus played every season since the Hurricanes joined the league in 2004. Miami is 11-8 against Virginia since joining the ACC, but that is less impressive considering they have been favored in sixteen of the nineteen contests. The Hurricanes have lost outright seven times as a favorite in this series and the favorite is just 9-9 straight up. Thirteen of the nineteen games have been decided by ten points or less, including the past five. These two teams played a real snoozer last season that was tied at six at the end of regulation. I expect a little more scoring this year, but Miami's victory against Clemson probably says more about the state of the program in the upstate of South Carolina that it does about the one in South Beach. Take the Cavaliers catching another big number. They probably won't win outright, but they will keep it close. 

Miami (Ohio) +7 Ohio
This is a play-in for the MAC Championship Game for all intents and purposes. Both the Redhawks and Bobcats enter with 3-1 conference records, so the winner will leave with what amounts to a one and a half game lead with three to play. This game lost a little of its luster when Miami starting quarterback Brett Gabbert went down with an injury last week against Toledo. The Redhawks were unable to mount a comeback with his replacement and fell in a tight game to the Rockets. However, with a week to prepare, I think they will have some packages to take advantage of backup Aveon Smith's mobility. Without Gabbert, the Redhawks will have to win this game with their defense which is one of the best in the MAC. League opponents are averaging under four yards per play against this unit and no MAC opponent has eclipsed twenty one points. Ohio also plays good defense and the total for this game currently sits at 39.5. Oddsmakers expect a low-scoring game and I think that favors the underdog. Ohio scored 80 combined points in their victories against Bowling Green and Kent State. In their other six games, they have managed just 100 combined points. I expect them to struggle moving the ball and scoring points. Thus, the value in this spot is on the underdog. 

Utah +6.5 Oregon
If we throw out the pandemic impacted 2020 season, Utah has been unbeatable in Salt Lake City over the past five years. The Utes lost to Washington in their conference opener in 2018, and have won 27 straight since (with an asterisk for 2020 when they dropped a game to Southern Cal). Outside of 2020, this also marks the first time Utah has been a home underdog since that loss to Washington. Two weeks ago, it looked like the two best teams in the Pac-12 were facing off in Seattle, but both the Ducks and Huskies have looked vulnerable and a fifth berth by the Utes in the Pac-12 Championship Game is not out of the question. Oregon has struggled on the road against good teams, failing to cover against both Washington State and Oregon State last season, needing a late defensive touchdown to cover against Texas Tech this season, and losing to Washington two weeks ago. After struggling to move the ball through the first half of the season, Utah appears to have found an offense in the past two games. Cal and Southern Cal are not defensive stalwarts, but the Utes had a hard time moving the ball against Florida, Baylor, and Weber State. I'm not going to get in front of this Utah team at home. Take the points and the Utes. 

Arkansas State +2.5 Louisiana-Monroe
It hasn't gotten to the level of Ohio State/Indiana or Alabama/Vanderbilt, but this series has been low-key dominated by Arkansas State. The Red Wolves have won thirteen in a row (last loss in 2009) and have covered the spread in all thirteen games! They have been favored in eleven of the thirteen games, but both times they were underdogs (2013 and 2021), it was by a similar number as this one. They won the 2013 game handily and squeaked by the Warhawks in 2021. Why would things be any different this season? Louisiana-Monroe has been spry under Terry Bowden, but should they be laying points in a conference game? This is just the third time they have been favored against an FBS opponent under Bowden and they have failed to cover the two previous games. Plus, Arkansas State has done well as a road underdog against Group of Five opponents under Butch Jones, posting an 8-4 ATS record in the role. Arkansas State is the better team and still has an outside shot at bowl eligibility. With five losses, Louisiana-Monroe is playing out the string and will drop their fourteenth in a row to the Red Wolves on Saturday. 

Georgia Tech +11.5 North Carolina
The Yellow Jackets have been a simple handicap under Brent Key. They are great as underdogs and awful as favorites. Under Key, the Yellow Jackets are 8-2 ATS as an underdog, with five outright wins. Meanwhile, they are 0-4 ATS as a favorite and have not won a single game on the field! The Yellow Jackets move the ball well, ranking just behind North Carolina in yards per play in ACC games (6.32 to 6.31). When he is not turning the ball over as he was last week, Haynes King is dual-threat quarterback. King rushed for 150 yards last week in their loss to Boston College and should be able to pick up a few first downs to keep drives alive against the Tar Heels. North Carolina still has a shot at the ACC Championship Game, but their playoff hopes were severely damaged in their home loss to Virginia last week. A flat performance would not surprise me. Plus, despite the different trajectories of these two programs, Georgia Tech has actually won the last two games in this series. They entered both contests as double digit underdogs off a loss. North Carolina is the better team, but this is too many points. 

New Mexico +1 Nevada
The Lobos and Wolfpack both broke long conference droughts last week. Both teams finished winless in the Mountain West last year and New Mexico broke a fourteen game conference skid while Nevada halted theirs at a much more respectable ten. However, they did it in drastically different ways. New Mexico won a high-scoring affair, dropping 42 points on Hawaii, while Nevada shut out San Diego State and won while failing to score an offensive touchdown. That offensive capability is why I like New Mexico in this spot. The Lobos have scored 92 points in their three conference games while Nevada has scored just 42. Their defensive display against San Diego State came out of nowhere as they held the Aztecs under four yards per play. Each of their previous six opponents, including Idaho of the FCS had averaged at least six and half yards per play against the Wolfpack. I'm a little wary backing the Lobos on the road, with their leaky defense, but they should be able to score enough to win back to back league games for the first time since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Magnificent Seven: Week VIII

After a more than a month, we finally got back in the win column. The overall record still sucks, but lets see if we can make some progress on that front. 

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 20-28-1

Navy +10.5 Air Force
Halfway through the 2023 season, Air Force has to be the favorite to emerge as the highest ranked Group of Five team and play in a New Year's Six Bowl. The Falcons are 6-0 and likely to be favored in every game they play the rest of the way with the possible exception of the finale at Boise State. This role is nothing new for Air Force. The Falcons were favored in every regular season game they played last year (underdog to Baylor in their bowl game) and were an underdog just once in 2021. The Falcons have lost six times as a betting favorite since start of the 2021 season including twice as a double digit favorite. Are the Falcons poised to fall out of the sky once again as a big favorite? I think they might be. For starters, the Midshipmen and Falcons are very familiar with each other, playing each season as two thirds of the participants in the battle for the Commander in Chief's Trophy. Under head coach Troy Calhoun, the Falcons are 8-8 against Navy, but just 2-6 in Annapolis. They won big the last time they were here two years ago as about a touchdown favorite, but this is just the third time they have been favored at Navy under Calhoun. In addition, their standout quarterback Zac Larrier suffered an injury last week against Wyoming and will miss this game. Navy is also dealing with quarterback injuries, but the drop off between Larrier and his backup is likely much greater than the gap between the Navy quarterbacks that have split time this season. Navy is also better defensively than they were in the final years of the Ken Niumatalolo regime. In 2021 and 2022, Navy ranked eleventh (second to last) in the AAC in yards allowed per play in league games. Halfway through the 2023 season, they rank a mediocre eighth in that statistic. Service academy games seem to always be close, so with a double digit spread and injury concerns for the favorite, the underdog is the play. 

UAB +6.5 Memphis
I thought Memphis had a chance to win the AAC this season. The Tigers had an experienced quarterback, a manageable conference schedule, and were getting last year's champ (Tulane) at home. The Tigers started 4-1, with their lone loss coming to a currently ranked SEC team (Missouri), but their failure to beat Tulane at home last week called into question their good start. The Tigers four wins include an FCS team, a bad Group of Five opponent that had yet to make a needed quarterback change (Arkansas State), Navy, and Boise State. The Navy and Boise State games were decided by four and three points respectively with the margin against Boise State coming on a short blocked field goal return touchdown. The Tigers aren't as good as I thought they would be and they have done performed poorly on the road under head coach Ryan Silverfield. Under Silverfield, the Tigers are just 2-5 ATS as a road favorite. In addition, they are an unthinkable 2-10 straight up in road conference games! UAB has been up and down in their first season under Trent Dilfer, but the Blazers are playing at home and have nothing to lose while Memphis has seen their conference title dreams take a significant hit. Take the Blazers and the points. 

Miami (Ohio) +2 Toledo
This might be the game of the year in the MAC and a preview of the conference title game. So thank goodness it is not consigned to ESPN+. You can watch this one on your terrestrial ESPNU channel so there is no need for boomer mid-westerners to ask their kids or grandkids to hook ESPN+ up to the main television. These two teams have not received an iota of attention from the national media, but the winner will probably receive a few sundry votes in the next AP Poll. Had Toledo held on to beat Illinois in their opener, they would probably be ranked. But such is the challenge for Group of Five college football programs. Lose once and the nation forgets about you unless you win your next ten. Still, for my money this is the best and most exciting game in the mid-afternoon window (third Saturday in October be damned). As for handicapping this game, I like the Redhawks because they have been one of the best MAC home teams of the past half-decade. Under Chuck Martin, they are 23-11 straight up in MAC home games, but 15-3 in such games since the start of the 2018 season. They are also 9-5-1 ATS as a home underdog under Martin, including 5-1 ATS since 2018. Plus I think this game means more to Miami. The Redhawks travel to Ohio next week and need to bank all the league wins they can. Meanwhile, Toledo already has a head to head win against their biggest division rival (Northern Illinois) and a very manageable schedule the rest of the way. 

Hawaii -1 New Mexico
Before the season started, I was somewhat optimistic about New Mexico's chances of fielding a competitive team in the Mountain West. The Lobos were historically bad on offense last season and brought in a quality transfer quarterback along with his offensive coordinator. They had also quietly posted a solid first half point differential last season, which is often indicative of improvement the following season. The offense has improved in 2023, with the Lobos more than doubling their per game scoring output from last season. However, the defense has fallen off a cliff. The Lobos are allowing over 34 points per game and if we remove their FCS contest, that number jumps to 39 points per game. The Lobos have also continued to struggle in the second half of games. If we ignore their games against teams they had no shot to defeat (Texas A&M) and teams they were heavily favored against (Tennessee Tech), and focus solely on their four games against similar opponents (Massachusetts, New Mexico State, San Jose State, and Wyoming), the Lobos have performed admirably in the first half. They have outscored those four opponents by a combined seven points in their first half. In all four games, they were never trailing by more than a touchdown at halftime. However, in the second half of those four games, the Lobos have been outscored by 54 total points. They have not won a single second half and nearly blew a two touchdown lead at Massachusetts before prevailing in overtime. Hawaii has been competitive in their second season under local legend Timmy Chang and are poised to win their first road game since 2021. Take the Rainbow Warriors. 

Florida Atlantic +3 Texas-San Antonio
On the surface, things appear to be back to normal for the Roadrunners since Frank Harris returned from injury two weeks ago. The AAC newcomers have won their first two league games by multiple scores while putting up 90 combined points. But if you dig a little deeper into those box scores, things may not be going quite as well as they seem. UTSA was outgained by both Temple and UAB, but the Roadrunners were +2 in turnovers in both games. Three of the five turnovers they forced in those two games led directly to short touchdown drives of less than twenty yards (two gave them goal to go opportunities). Turnovers are great for winning games, but less so for predicting the future. If the Roadrunners finish +2 in turnovers in this game, there is a great shot they cover this small number. But turnovers are a fickle mistress and I think they have inflated this line in favor of UTSA. In addition, Tom Herman has been fantastic as a home underdog in his previous stops at Houston and Texas (4-1 ATS in the role). I'll back him again in one of his favorite spots and call for an outright upset by the Owls. 

Old Dominion +6.5 Appalachian State
It feels like the end may be coming for Shawn Clark at Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are a proud program and do not stand for mediocrity. And, over the last year and a half, the Mountaineers have been mediocre or worse. Clark began his career in Boone 19-5. However, since the start of the 2021 postseason (Sun Belt Championship Game), the Mountaineers are just 9-11 (6-11 versus FBS opponents!). Perhaps its just a run of bad luck as the Mountaineers are just 3-9 in one-score games in that span. But this year, the defense has fallen off a cliff. The Mountaineers have allowed over seven yards per play to their first two Sun Belt opponents. They lost on a last second field goal to Coastal Carolina, but were fortunate to escape Louisiana-Monroe on a field goal of their own the game prior. The Sun Belt is a highly competitive league, so it would not be surprising to see Appalachian State finish 6-6 or worse for a second consecutive year. The Mountaineers have also been bad on the road under Clark, posting a 3-10-1 ATS mark as a road favorite with seven outright losses. In addition, their only road victory since upsetting a top ten Texas A&M team last year was by one point at Louisiana-Monroe a few weeks ago. After bottoming out at 3-9 last season, Old Dominion has already matched their win total halfway through 2023. They have already pulled one outright home upset against a conference opponent this season and also put a major scare into an ACC team in Norfolk. Take the Monarchs to cover this number and don't be surprised if they win outright. 

UNLV -8 Colorado State
This is a massive game for both teams. UNLV is 5-1 and on the precipice of receiving votes in the AP Poll. The Rebels have never been ranked in their history and considering their pedigree, they are a long shot to bust into the poll. However, they have a great shot at playing in just their third bowl game this century, and despite a back-loaded schedule, have an outside shot at playing in the Mountain West Championship Game. Meanwhile, Colorado State has won three of four after an 0-2 start and the Rams have designs on their first bowl bid since 2017. The Rams staged a miraculous rally on Saturday night to upset Boise State. Down twenty with under five minutes to go, the Rams scored, recovered an onside kick, scored, nearly recovered another onside kick, and completed a Hail Mary at the gun to win. It helped that Boise head coach Andy Avalos was asleep at the wheel when the Broncos scored a touchdown to go up nineteen with about six minutes to go in the game. The Broncos should have gone for two as a conversion would have given them a full three touchdown lead. But I digress. While the rally is great for their bowl hopes, it also masked their offensive struggles. The Rams had scored ten points through 90% of the ball game. That came one week after turnovers and special teams plays helped them build a 17-0 lead against Utah State. The Rams would score just seven more points en route to a blowout loss to the Aggies. Colorado State is one dimensional on offense, as they average under three yards per carry despite allowing only nine sacks on the season. Freshman quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi has made some big plays, but befitting his youth and inexperience, he has also thrown eleven interceptions. Colorado State is 2-7 on the road under Jay Norvell, with six of the seven losses coming by double digits. UNLV has scored at least forty points in every game this season when they did not play Michigan. I expect another great offensive showing by the Rebels and a double digit win. 

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

Egads. The first week of October did not go any better for us. Our yearly record is quite poor, so the goal of 55% is probably out of the question. Best we can hope for is to get back to .500 by the end of the year. As always, home teams in bold. 

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 16-25-1

Kent State +9 Eastern Michigan
If I've written it once on this blog, I've written it a thousand times. Chris Creighton is one of the best coaches in college football and his teams are a virtual ATM when catching points. However, they are much less reliable when laying points. Under Creighton, the Eagles are 6-13 ATS as a home favorite with ten outright losses. The Eagles covered last week as a small home favorite against Ball State, but that fourteen point margin was a bit misleading. Eastern Michigan was outgained and averaged under four yards per play. Two turnovers by the Cardinals and three fourth down stops by Eastern Michigan flipped that game. There is a lot of parity in the MAC and Eastern Michigan represents by far the weakest FBS team Kent State has faced this season. In the non-conference, they faced two Power Five teams on the road (Arkansas and UCF) as well as the a solid Mountain West team (Fresno State). Then to open league play, they faced the two best teams in their division (Miami and Ohio). Kent State is not a good team, but neither is Eastern Michigan, so so I expect a tight game. Gobble up those nine points with the Golden Flashes. 

Georgia Southern +6 James Madison
The transition to FBS has not been a problem for James Madison. The Dukes won their first five games as an FBS team last season on their way to an 8-3 finish and are 5-0 once again. While the Dukes have stacked wins, their margin has not been great. Their four wins against FBS teams have come by a combined eighteen points. Give the Dukes credit though, as they have managed to win several different types of games. They won a shootout at Virginia, a defensive struggle at Troy, and a pair of blowouts that turned tight against Utah State and South Alabama. The Dukes have been great against the run, holding their opponents to under two yards per rush when including for sacks. They lead the nation in sacks per game, having totaled 23 through their first five contests. However, when opposing quarterbacks don't get tackled in the backfield, they have managed to move the ball against the Dukes. Their four FBS opponents have averaged 8.25 yards per pass against their secondary. That may play right into the hands of the pass happy Eagles from Statesboro. The Eagles throw the ball more than any team in FBS (over 49 passes per game) and have allowed only eleven sacks on the season. Were this game played a few years ago when Georgia Southern ran the triple option, the Dukes would be poised to shut it down. However, playing against the new look Eagles, I expect the Dukes to give up quite a few yards through the air. James Madison may prevail, but it will be close. 

Oklahoma State +3 Kansas
This is an historic moment for Kansas football. Earlier this season, Kansas was a road favorite against Nevada. But this week, they are road favorites in a conference game for the first time since 2009! A child born the last time Kansas was favored in a Big 12 road game would be entering high school now! For what its worth, Kansas has been a road favorite five times since their Orange Bowl run in 2007. They are 1-4 ATS in those games with two outright losses and two wins by a touchdown or less. At 5-1, Kansas appears to be headed to a bowl game for a second consecutive season, and while the offense continues to be among the best in the Big 12, the team has been somewhat fortunate in the early going. They have scored three non-offensive touchdowns in their first three league games (an interception and fumble return against BYU and a punt return against UCF) and are +4 in turnovers in those Big 12 games. Meanwhile, after an embarrassing home loss to South Alabama, Oklahoma State seems to be back on track, losing a tight game in Ames and beating the reigning Big 12 champ at home. This won't go down as Mike Gundy's best team, but the Cowboys should be able to get to yet another bowl game (18th straight). The Cowboys are mediocre as a home underdog under Gundy (11-11-2 ATS), but as you might guess, most of those games came early in his tenure. In his first six seasons (2005-2010), the Cowboys were just 4-6-2 as a home underdog). However, since 2011, they are 7-5 ATS in the role, with two of the non-covers coming against Oklahoma. In addition, since 2016, they are 6-1 ATS as a home underdog with six outright wins (lone loss came to Oklahoma). This is an unfamiliar spot for Kansas, so back the home underdog. 

Bowling Green +4 Buffalo
A few weeks ago, I wrote there were three good teams in the MAC (Miami, Ohio, and Toledo) and nine teams of varying forms of trash. Despite Bowling Green's road win against Georgia Tech and Buffalo's two-game winning streak, I stand by that statement. After scoring 38 points against Georgia Tech and getting their defensive coordinator demoted, the Falcons were shutout by Miami. The loss dropped the Falcons to 2-4, but their schedule has been arduous. They have faced two unbeaten teams in the non-conference (Liberty and Michigan) as well as two of the best teams in the MAC (Miami and Ohio). And of course, the aforementioned Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech. Meanwhile, Buffalo has eased into MAC play with games against Akron and Central Michigan. The Bulls were taken to overtime by the woeful Zips and their big victory against Central Michigan was aided by four turnovers and two defensive touchdowns. Bowling Green is probably the better team and this spread should be much close to a pick 'em. Take the Falcons and the points. 

Kansas State +1.5 Texas Tech
When Nebraska and Colorado left the Big 12 in 2011, the conference scrapped divisions and instituted a true round-robin schedule. Thus, Kansas State and Texas Tech have played each of the past twelve seasons. In that span, Kansas State is 11-1 straight up and 10-2 ATS. They have been successful in both Manhattan and Lubbock, winning five of the six games at Texas Tech with their only loss coming in 2015. Texas Tech has rebounded from their 1-3 start, winning their last two games in blowout fashion. However, those victories have come against Houston and Baylor, two teams that have combined for three FBS wins between them. Based on the series history, the play is Kansas State. 

Wyoming +10.5 Air Force
The winner of this game will have the inside track to the Mountain West Championship Game. If the winner happens to be Air Force, it may be time to consider the Falcons the favorite to emerge from the Group of Five and be selected for a New Year's Six bowl game. The Falcons, along with the Flames of Liberty and the Dukes of James Madison, are the only remaining unbeaten teams from the G5. James Madison is ineligible for the postseason and Liberty plays in arguably the weakest FBS conference, so an undefeated Air Force would practically be a shoe in for the NY6. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Should the Falcons really be this large a favorite against a solid Wyoming team? The Mountain West scrapped divisions prior to the season, but in the before times, both the Cowboys and Falcons were members of the Mountain Division, meaning they played each other once a year. Troy Calhoun has been at Air Force for seventeen seasons and is creeping up on Fisher DeBerry in terms of tenure at the academy. Craig Bohl is in his tenth season at Wyoming, so these two coaches are very familiar with each other. Since Bohl arrived in Laramie, the Cowboys are 5-3 against the Falcons despite being underdogs seven times. Bohl's teams have done a good job of holding Air Force triple option in check. The Falcons have averaged just over 21 points per game in the eight contests (22 points per game at home) and have never scored more than 31. Wyoming has been tested in the first half of their schedule, facing two Big 12 teams (Texas and Texas Tech), Appalachian State, and Fresno State. Air Force has had it much easier through their first five games, with their best opponent probably being Utah State. These teams are 27th and 28th in the latest edition of the AP Poll, so hopefully the winner moves into the actual top 25. Befitting teams bunched so tightly in the rankings, I expect a close game. 

Southern Cal +2.5 Notre Dame
I rarely like to back teams like Southern Cal since they tend to be overvalued by the betting market. But I think this week might be the time to buy them. The Trojans have won their first six games against a slate of bad to mediocre teams. Either Arizona or Colorado is the best team they have beaten and both those victories were close. With those two tight wins, the Trojans are now 6-2 (6-1 in the regular season) in one-score games under Lincoln Riley. The offense, led by reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams is fantastic, but the defense is still bad. After a solid two-week showing against Stanford and Nevada, the Trojans have allowed 110 points the past three weeks (just 97 in regulation though). Now the schedule ramps up significantly in difficulty. Five of their final six opponents, including the Irish, are currently ranked in the AP Poll. I don't think they will make it through unscathed, but I think the wrong team is favored here. While Southern Cal is just beginning their gauntlet, Notre Dame is facing their fourth consecutive Power Five opponent. The Irish lost a heartbreaker to Ohio State, escaped at Duke, and were humbled by Louisville last week. How much do they have in the tank knowing their hopes of a spot in the College Football Playoff are dashed? Under Marcus Freeman, the Irish are just 1-5 ATS as a home favorite with the lone cover coming against a bad Boston College team last season. On the other sideline, Lincoln Riley has been an underdog four times in his career in the regular season (all on the road). His teams have covered in all four games and won outright twice. Anytime you can back the best player in college football catching a field goal, you have to do it. 

Thursday, October 05, 2023

The Magnificent Seven: Week VI

Time to burn the film for the first month of play. That was a horrendous five weeks of picks. We have eight more regular season weeks, a championship weekend, and bowl season to dig out of this hole. Let's get started. 

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 14-20-1

Missouri +5.5 LSU
After last week's defensive debacle in Oxford and their poor defensive showing two weeks ago against Arkansas in Baton Rouge, I figured the betting market would sour on LSU. That does not appear to be the case. The Tigers are still laying nearly a touchdown on the road against a more than competent conference foe. LSU is 1-3 ATS as a SEC road favorite under Brian Kelly, covering earlier this season against a bad Mississippi State team, but otherwise playing underwhelming football. Meanwhile, Missouri is 6-2 ATS as a home underdog under Eli Drinkwitz and appears to be the biggest potential challenger to Georgia in the SEC East. Remember the name Luther Burden. Missouri's wide receive leads the nation with 644 yards through five games and with LSU's recent pass defense showings (nearly 700 yards at over nine yards per throw over the past two games), Burden could put up some serious fantasy numbers. After this game, LSU gets five of their last six at home (road trip to Tuscaloosa), but they may already have two conference defeats. 

Temple +14 Texas-San Antonio
Someone has to explain this spread to me. Two weeks ago, Temple was roughly a twenty-four point home underdog to Miami. As expected, the Owls did not acquit themselves well in that game, losing 41-7. Now, two weeks later, the Owls are fourteen points underdogs to a UTSA team that has not played well a month into the 2023 season. The Roadrunners are probably getting Frank Harris back, which should be a boon to their bowl hopes, but that implies this version of the Roadrunners would be a ten-point underdog to Miami on a neutral field. I find that hard to believe. To further bolster the case for taking the Owls, consider that UTSA has not scored more than 29 points in any single game this season. To cover a two touchdown point spread, a team needs to score. As I mentioned, quarterback Frank Harris has missed time this season, but in the two games he started, the Roadrunners scored fourteen and twenty points against teams that are allowing nearly thirty points per game on the season. Temple is a bad team, but this spread is simply too high. 

Virginia Tech +24 Florida State
Despite three regular season losses, Florida State was dominant last season. Their YPP Net was head and shoulders above the rest of the ACC. I thought they were a darkhorse national title contender heading into the season and I was not alone. Despite their undefeated record and seemingly assured spot in the ACC Championship Game, the Seminoles are not nearly as good as they were last season. Florida State beat LSU to open the season for the second consecutive year, but that game was much closer on the field than the three touchdown final margin would indicate. They followed that victory up with a bludgeoning of Southern Miss. While the victory was impressive, Southern Miss has not beaten an FBS team this season. Then Florida State struggled in their first two ACC games, nearly blowing a big lead against Boston College before beating Clemson on the road in overtime. While the Seminoles are 2-0 in ACC play, their YPP Net is zero. This means the Seminoles have averaged the exact same yards per play as their first two ACC opponents. Both those games came on the road, so we should give Florida State some extra credit there, but the team is not as dominant as they were last season. In fact, you could argue their dominance faded once conference play ended last year. In their past five games against Power Five opponents which includes last year's regular season finale against Florida, the bowl game against Oklahoma, and their three games this season against LSU, Boston College, and Clemson, the Seminoles have averaged 6.85 yards per play (good) and allowed 6.14 yards per play (not good). While two of those games came against LSU and Clemson this season, two also came against Florida and Oklahoma last season (combined 12-14 record) and Boston College this season. The Seminoles have won all five games, but outside of their three touchdown victory against LSU, the other four have all come by one score. Florida State entered as a prohibitive favorite in three of those four games (all but Clemson) and failed to cover in all three. Perhaps I am putting to much stock into Virginia Tech's home victory against a cratering Pitt team, and if my year to date record is any indication, I probably am, but Florida State feels like a team you should be fading. 

Akron +6.5 Northern Illinois
One week after foolishly backing the Zips as a favorite, I am back on board with them in their preferred role as an underdog. While Akron is just 1-14 straight up against FBS teams under Joe Moorhead, the Zips are 9-5 ATS as an underdog. If there is a game to lose, the Zips will certainly lose it, but it will be close. The Zips are 1-8 in MAC play under Moorhead, but six of the eight defeats have come by a touchdown or less and three have come by a field goal or less. Plus, their only league win under Moorhead came in their penultimate game last season against...Northern Illinois. The Zips scored 42 points in that game against the Huskies with Jeff Undercuffler throwing for a career high 312 yards. Undercuffler will be getting the start once again as DJ Irons is out with a torn ACL. While Irons is more athletic, the offense never really got going with him this season (averaging seventeen points per game), so there may not be much of a drop off, if any. Northern Illinois has also been bad as a road favorite under Thomas Hammock, posting a 1-4 ATS mark with four outright losses. In addition, this is the most points they have been laying on the road under Hammock. I expect the Zips to play well enough on defense to lose yet another close game. 

Arkansas State +17 Troy
One of my few good calls last week was Arkansas State catching a small number on the road against Massachusetts. The Red Wolves dropped 52 points on the Minutemen in their largest margin of victory against an FBS opponent under Butch Jones. The difficulty level increases significantly this weekend as the Red Wolves face the defending Sun Belt champs. Troy dropped two of their first three games, but have won two in a row and are looking to repeat their 2022 pattern of opening 1-2 and winning out. Troy continues to play remarkable defense at the Group of Five level, holding each of their three FBS G5 opponents under 300 yards of total offense. Even against a talented young quarterback like Jaylen Raynor, Troy should win this game. However, this is a very large spread and I don't think Troy's offense will be able to hold up their end of the bargain. To cover this spread, Troy will probably need to score thirty or more points. They have yet to do so against an FBS opponent in 2023 despite facing both Western Kentucky and Georgia State. Western Kentucky's defense is bad and Georgia State's is at beast average by Sun Belt standards. The Trojans scored 24 and 28 points respectively in those two games and one of their touchdowns against Western Kentucky came on an end of half Hail Mary. If this spread were under two touchdowns, I would be inclined to stay away, but seventeen points is too many. The Red Wolves were so bad in their first two games of the season, the market has yet to correct for their recent general competency. The Red Wolves will keep this one close as they push toward saving their head coaches' job. 

Louisiana-Monroe +11 South Alabama
While they have yet to play in a bowl game and their overall record is just 10-18, the Warhawks have become a tough out, especially at home under Terry Bowden. The Warhawks have mostly rolled over against the Power Five opponents they have faced (1-4 ATS with the closest loss coming by thirteen points), but they have scared more than their fair share of Sun Belt and other Group of Five foes. Including last week's near miss against Appalachian State, the Warhawks are 7-2 ATS as a home underdog with five outright wins. One of those outright upsets came two years ago against these same Jaguars. The Warhawks entered as a nearly two touchdown home underdog, but prevailed 41-31. In fact, South Alabama has yet to beat the Warhawks in Monroe, posting an 0-4 all-time record. The co-favorite in the Sun Belt West, the Jaguars have had a weird season. They dominated Oklahoma State in Stillwater, but lost at home the following week to Central Michigan. The Jaguars already have a conference loss, so if they have any designs on playing in their first Sun Belt Championship Game, they must win here. However, the series history and Monroe's track record as a home underdog make them the play. 

Iowa State +6.5 TCU
When handicapping a game, especially a conference game, one of the things I like to look at is the series history. TCU joined the Big 12 in 2012 and the Horned Frogs and Cyclones have played each season. TCU has a slight straight up edge, winning six of the eleven games. However, the Cyclones have dominated this series in terms of ATS, going 8-2-1 against the betting market. The numbers are especially pronounced in games played in Ames. Iowa State is 3-2 straight up, with wins in each of the last three game and a perfect 5-0 ATS. As previously mentioned, TCU has covered only two times in this series and both of those covers came in regular season finales featuring playoff caliber TCU teams (2014 and 2022) against Iowa State teams that finished with losing records. Iowa State is 10-5-1 ATS as a home underdog under Matt Campbell and has not lost to TCU in Ames since 2015. This Horned Frogs team is good, but not up to the standards of the 2014 and 2022 edition. Take the Cyclones to cover and don't be surprised if they make it four straight against the Horned Frogs in Ames.