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Reply To: NCAA Week 14 • "Championship Games! • Saturday 12/5/15

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BAYLOR (-20½) 43 Texas 23

It’s unfair to judge Baylor’s 3rd string quarterback Chris Johnson on his horrible performance last week (7 for 24 for just 62 yards passing) given the torrential downpour that he had to play in. After all, TCU star quarterback Trevone Boykin was also terrible. However, Johnson completion only 5 of 10 passes the week before against Oklahoma State and it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s not as good as Seth Russell or Jarrett Stidham were. After making what I feel is an appropriate adjustment the math favors Baylor by just 18½ points. However, Baylor is 24-7 ATS at home the last 5 seasons and it’s tough to say how much Texas really cares about this game. I’ll pass.

HOUSTON (-6) 29 Temple 22

This looks like a battle between a good offense and a good defense but Houston’s defense only allowed 20.8 points per game (against FBS opponents), which is just 2 more points than what Temple allowed this season. Houston clearly as the better offense though, as the Cougars averaged 41.1 points on 494 yards per game at 6.4 yards per play (although against teams that would allow 6.0 yppl to an average team) while Temple is below average offensively on a yards per play basis (5.6 yppl against teams that would allow 5.9 yppl). Temple averaged 32.3 points per game because of limited turnovers on offense (just 1.3 per game) and good field position set up by their defense. Houston, however, doesn’t turn the ball over either (1.1 per game) and my math model projects Houston with 83 more yards in this game with a slight edge in projected turnovers. Overall the math favors Houston by 7 ½ points and I’ll lean slightly with the Cougars – although there isn’t enough value to make any size play.

Alabama (-17½) 24 Florida 10

I realize that Florida’s offense looked inept last week against Florida State and that it seems impossible that the Gators will score a touchdown against Alabama’s vaunted defense but my math model doesn’t overreact to one game and the math projects 10 points for the Gators, which will likely be enough to cover given how good their defense is. Alabama has a good attack that has averaged 5.9 yppl against teams that would allow 5.2 yppl to an average team but the Gators’ defense is 1.3 yppl better than average (4.4 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.7 yppl against an average defensive team. That opponent rating is adjusted for facing Georgia after the injury to RB Chubb and facing the Bulldogs’ backup quarterback, as well as a few other opponent adjustments). Florida only allows 15.5 points per game and Alabama’s offense is projected to gain a modest 316 yards at 4.9 yards per play in this game, which should net them between 21 and 27 points. That could be enough to cover the big number but it’s unlikely, as my math model gives the Gators a 53.1% chance of covering while also favoring the under. Conference Championship underdogs of 10 to 21 points are 18-7 ATS since the inception of such games (including Friday night’s game), including 4-0 ATS if the big dog just lost by 21 points or more the previous week as the Gators did. Florida is the right side on this game but not quite good enough for me to put my money on it.

Stanford (-4) 28 USC 26

Stanford beat USC 41-31 in the Coliseum early this season but the Trojans averaged 7.3 yards per play in that game while the Cardinal averaged 6.7 yppl. Stanford ran 12 more plays from scrimmage and overall the Cardinal has a 2 point advantage in my line of scrimmage rating for the contest. That match up was closer than the final score indicated and my math model only favors Stanford by 2 points in this game with a semi-home advantage being given to the Cardinal for playing this game only about 20 miles from campus. The value might be on the under, as USC has gone to a much more conservative game plan with more running and a slower pace of play on offense since Clay Helton took over a head coach in week 7. My model projected 59 total points prior to making an adjustment based on USC’s pace since week 7 and now I get just 54 points.

Clemson (-4½) 37 North Carolina 32

North Carolina has been underrated ever since their fluke loss to South Carolina in their opening game (7.0 yppl to 5.6 yppl but 3 costly interceptions). The Tarheels are 11-0 straight up and 8-3 ATS since then but they haven’t faced a really good team until today. UNC’s record is no fluke, as they’ve faced a lot of better than average teams and have averaged 6.3 yards per play or better in every game this season. Of course the Tarheels, who have been 2.0 yppl better than average (7.6 yppl against 10 FBS opponents that would allow 5.6 yppl to an average team), haven’t faced a team with a defense as good as a Tigers, who rate at 1.2 yards per play better than average defensively. North Carolina does have the edge in that match up and Clemson gave up 6.3 yards per play to Notre Dame, the only other elite offense that they faced. Clemson didn’t play poorly defensively in that games, as they were 1.2 yppl better than average against an attack that would average 7.4 yppl on the road against an average defense, which is the same as their season rating. However, Clemson has had trouble with running quarterbacks. South Carolina’s quarterbacks ran for 130 yards on just 15 runs last week. The Syracuse backup Zack Mahoney had 81 yards on 9 runs a few weeks ago and overall Clemson’s defense has given up an average of 186 rushing yards at 6.5 yards per running play in their last 5 games. Marquis Williams is easily the best quarterback that Clemson has faced since giving up over 300 yards passing at 8 yards per pass play against Notre Dame and Williams is an incredibly good running quarterback who has accounted for 775 rushing yards in 10 FBS games at 7.5 yards per run. The Tigers also gave up 6.2 yards per play to Florida State and 397 yards at 5.9 yppl to NC State – so the Clemson defense has been vulnerable to good offensive teams. My math projects 387 yards at 6.2 yppl for North Carolina in this game, which should get result in about 30 points.

Of course Clemson, who rates at 1.3 yppl better than average with Deshaun Watson in the game, should certainly be able to move the ball against a good but not great North Carolina defense that’s 0.3 yppl better than average for the season. The Tarheels are good defending the pass but they struggled against the run, which we saw against last week against the Wolfpack. Clemson has a better than average rushing attack and the Tigers should run the ball really well in this game while Deshaun Watson comes up with enough big pass plays to win this game. The math projects 556 yards at 6.5 yppl for the Tigers, who are expected to possess the ball for significantly more plays since UNC is more of a quick strike offense.

Overall the math favors Clemson by 7 points but it would not surprise me at all to see North Carolina win this game and the difference could come down to a special teams play, which is an area in which the Tarheels have a significant advantage. Also, the pressure is on #1 rated Clemson and unbeaten teams are just 7-7 straight up and 2-12 ATS when favored from 3 to 17 points in conference championship games. I’d consider a money line play on North Carolina given that history but I’m passing on the side and total.

Iowa (+3½) 24 Michigan State 23

Michigan State has played their best football recently and may no longer be overrated but the undefeated Hawkeyes are still underappreciated and my math model favors the Hawkeyes by ½ a point in this contest. Iowa is solid in all facets of the game, rating at 0.6 yards per play better than average offensively (6.1 yppl against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) and 0.7 yppl better than average defensively (4.8 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.5 yppl) while being good in special teams. Michigan State, meanwhile, is only 0.3 yppl better than average offensively with Connor Cook at quarterback (6.0 yppl against teams that would allow 5.7 yppl) and I rate the Spartans’ defense at 0.8 yppl better than average after excluding their game against the Air Force option (7.1 yppl allowed). Overall Iowa has a 0.2 yppl advantage from the line of scrimmage but Michigan State is projected to run significantly more plays. Overall the Spartans do have an edge from the line of scrimmage but Iowa has a solid advantage in special teams, which should give them better field position. That math favors Iowa by ½ a point and I’ll lean with the Hawkeyes to make it to the playoffs despite being the 19th best team in the nation (Michigan State is 20th).

GEORGIA SOUTHERN (-21) 39 Georgia State 14

Georgia State has improved in the 2nd half of the season and their 3 consecutive wins has the Panthers one big upset away from a 6-6 record and a possible bowl game. Georgia State is 14-2 ATS as an underdog of more than 14 points (2-1 this season) but Georgia Southern is 10-1 ATS when favored by 16 points or more and my math model favors the Eagles by 24 ½ points.

New Mexico State (pick) 32 UL MONROE 25

This play is all about the quarterbacks that will be playing. New Mexico State quarterback Andrew Allen is practicing and has been upgraded to probable after leaving last week’s game with a knee injury. That’s good news since it means fewer snaps for Nick Jeanty, who has struggled when Allen has been out. UL Monroe starting quarterback Garrett Smith has been downgraded to doubtful and is expected to miss this 3rd consecutive game due to a shoulder he injured in the first half against Arkansas State in week 11. That’s horrible news for the Warhawks given how bad 3rd string quarterback Earnest Carrington has been (2nd string QB Brayle Brown is out for the season). ULM’s pass attack ranks among the worst in the nation (only Charlotte and North Texas are worse), averaging only 4.4 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 6.7 yppp to an average team. Carrington is considerably worse than those horrible team numbers, as he’s averaged only 3.5 yppp the last 2 ½ games since Smith was injured while facing teams that would allow 7.5 yppp to an average quarterback. That -4.0 yppp rating is 1.7 yppp worse than the team rating and his numbers would be even worse if I included his 7 pass plays for a total of 4 yards in mop-up duty in other games. New Mexico State has a horrendous defense that rates at 2.3 yppp worse than average defending the pass but Carrington only averaged 3.6 yppp two weeks ago against a Texas State pass defense that’s 2.6 yppp worse than average. UL Monroe scored only 3 points against the Bobcats’ horrible defense but they did play better last week at Hawaii – although Carrington still averaged just 4.4 yppp.

The math projects 379 yards at 5.0 yards per play for UL Monroe against weak New Mexico State defense but it would have predicted 465 yards at 6.1 yppl with Smith playing, which is a significant difference that is not fully reflected in the current odds. New Mexico State has a pretty good offense thanks to running back Larry Rose III, who has 1587 yards at 7.5 ypr, and overall the Aggies rate as an average offensive team on a national scale with Allen at quarterback (he’s averaged 6.3 yppp against teams that would allow 7.0 yppp). UL Monroe is solid defending the run and horrible against the pass and the math still projects 6.0 yards per rushing play to go along with 6.3 yards per pass play (I assumed Jeanty would play 25% of the game, which brings the numbers down a bit) with 473 total yards at 6.1 yppl. The math model would favor New Mexico State by 1 ½ points using season stats for both teams but adjusting for Carrington at quarterback for ULM makes a significant difference and the adjusted math favors the Aggies by 8 points. I don’t like to take bad teams on the road in the final week of the season because motivation for such teams is questionable. However, perennially bad New Mexico State is excited about the prospect of having a .500 record in conference play so I believe they’ll be focused. UL Monroe, meanwhile, is winless in 11 games against FBS competition and are playing under an interim head coach so they probably can’t wait for this dreadful season to be over. I’m still reluctant to play New Mexico State because of a negative 47-102-4 ATS situation that applies to the Aggies. That angle plays against bad defensive teams on the road but New Mexico State is actually 2-0 ATS this season in that situation. I’ll consider New Mexico State a Strong Opinion at -2½ or better.

ARKANSAS STATE (-23½) 49 Texas State 17

Arkansas State is 6-0 straight up and 5-1 ATS since star quarterback Fredi Knighten returned to the lineup after missing 3 games earlier in the season. The Red Wolves are now in position to wrap up the Sun Belt Conference crown with an unblemished record. If that weren’t enough motivation to play hard the fact that Texas State upset them last season should help fuel the Red Wolves’ fire. Favorites of more than 21 points are 62-37-3 ATS when seeking revenge against a conference opponent with a losing record and Arkansas State applies to a 36-5 ATS subset of that situation. There are a few other strong situations that favor Arkansas State in this game, including a 164-85-5 ATS big home favorite momentum situation, but my interest in backing the Red Wolves is based on line value.

Arkansas State has averaged 47.5 points in 6 games since Knighten returned to the lineup and the Red Wolves should have no trouble putting up a similar number today against a horrible Texas State defense that’s allowed an average of 39 points on 535 yards per game at 7.2 yards per play. The Bobcats can’t stop the run or the pass, as they’ve allowed 278 rushing yards at 6.3 yards per rushing play and 258 pass yards at 8.5 yards per pass play (against quarterbacks that would average only 5.5 yppp against an average defense). Arkansas State is projected to gain 584 yards at 7.6 yards per play in this game while scoring 49 points and those projections are certainly reasonable.

Arkansas State’s defense isn’t good on a yards per play basis, as the Red Wolves rate at 0.4 yppl worse than average, but that unit has an advantage over a Texas State attack that’s been 0.8 yppl worse than average offensively this season (5.4 yppl against teams that would allow 6.2 yppl to an average team). That offense looked pretty good last week in their loss at Idaho but that’s only because Idaho has a horrendous defense that ranks among the worst in the nation. Texas State averaged 6.4 yppl in that game, which is good, but an average team would average 7.2 yppl at Idaho, so the Bobcats played at their normal -0.8 yppl level last week and are projected to average a modest 5.0 yppl against the Red Wolves’ defense. The Arkansas State defense is better than their below average yardage stats suggest, as the Red Wolves have averaged 2.2 interceptions per game and are pretty solid overall because of their aggressiveness. I don’t expect that rate of interceptions to continue but the math does project 1.4 interceptions for Texas State quarterback Tyler Jones.

Overall the math is calling for an edge of 215 total yards for Arkansas State as well as a 1.0 edge in projected turnovers and a significant edge in special teams, which is an area that Arkansas State excels at and Texas State does not. The math model favors Arkansas State by 31 points in this game and their chances of covering are a bit better given the strong situation that the Red Wolves are in. My math model is also particularly good historically when a math play (games with a 56% or higher chance of covering) applies to a favorite of more than 21 points. In fact, those games are 83-34-2 since 2004 and there’s a good chance that record gets better with this play. Texas State is 0-5 ATS as an underdog this season and I can certainly see them giving up when they get down big in this game. I’ll take Arkansas State in a 3-Star Best Bet at -24 points or less and for 2-Stars up to -25 points.

Note: I released this game to my clients on Monday at -23.5 and the line has moved out of Best Bet range. I do believe that the line will come back down to -25 or less on Saturday so keep an eye on it.

UL LAFAYETTE (-2) 26 Troy State 25

This line opened at pick and my math model also picks this game even. Not even value to play Troy but I’ll lean slightly with the Trojans in this game. I think the value on this game is with the Under.

Appalachian State (-18) 37 SOUTH ALABAMA 20

The math favors Appalachian State by just 16½ points so a slight lean with the big home dog.

SAN DIEGO STATE (-6½) 23 Air Force 19

San Diego State rebounded from a really bad start to the season to go 8-0 on Mountain West Conference play with the combination of a conservative mistake-free offense and a stingy defense. The Aztecs were nothing special on offense, averaging 5.7 yards per play against teams that would allow 6.0 yppl to an average team but they controlled the ball (+5.2 in play differential) and averaged just 0.9 turnovers per game. The offense won’t be quite as efficient with starting quarterback Maxwell Smith out, as backup Christian Chapman has looked shaky in backup duty in 3 games. Chapman has completed just 12 of his 24 passes and averaged only 4.4 yards per pass play despite facing teams that would allow 7.0 yppp to an average quarterback. I expect Chapman to be better than that with a week of practice with the first team offense but his numbers are likely to be considerably worse than Smith’s numbers and Air Force will be able to put an extra man in the box to help stop the run without as much fear of being beat deep (Chapman has averaged just 10.0 yards per completion). The math projects a modest 309 yards at 5.3 yppl for the Aztecs in this game against a solid Air Force defense.

The Air Force option attack isn’t likely to generate a lot of points either against a very good San Diego State stop unit that’s yielded just 295 yards per game and hasn’t allowed more than 14 points in any game of their 8 conference games. San Diego State coach Rocky Long has faced the Air Force option for many years, as he was the head coach at New Mexico before coming to San Diego as the defensive coordinator a few years before taking over as the head coach. Long and his staff have a very good grasp on option defense and San Diego State is 6-0 ATS against Air Force since Long came to San Diego (2 years as DC) while allowing an average of just 20.2 points in those games. The math model favors San Diego State by just 2 points with a total of 45 points but I’m going to cut a couple of points off the Air Force projection based on Rocky Long’s long term success against the option. The under is the best play in this game and I’ll consider the Under a Strong Opinion at 48 points or higher.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (-7½) 39 Southern Miss 32

Southern Miss has been a pointspread darling this season, going 10-2 against the number, but the Eagles dominated 7 horrible teams that are all at least 15 points worse than average and had mixed results against the 4 average or good teams they faced – losing by 18 to Miss State, losing by 8 at Nebraska, losing by 21 at Marshall and beating Louisiana Tech by 34 points last week. Western Kentucky is as good or better than all of those teams but my math model favors the Hilltoppers by just 6½ points in this game, so Southern Miss certainly has a chance. I’ll pass