Tough week as both Bob and I went 2-3. My record goes to 8-5-2... while Dr. Bob is treading water at 7-8.
These are five of Bob's strong opinions. He has seven additional Best Bets this week which you can see at his site.
Dr. Bob's picks...
CENTRAL MICHIGAN (-17 ½) 31 Ball State 3
With their close loss at Northwestern Central Michigan is now 4-0 ATS and the Chippewas are likely to keep their perfect spread record intact today. Central Michigan may not have star quarterback Dan LeFevour anymore, but Ryan Radcliff is averaging an impressive 7.4 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.8 yppp to an average QB) and the Chippewas have a very good defense that has yielded just 4.4 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.2 yppl against an average team. That defense will have no trouble shutting down a horrible Ball State offense that has managed to average just 4.2 yppl despite facing teams that would allow 6.2 yppl to an average attack. Ball State's defense isn't good either, allowing 6.0 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.4 yppl against an average team, so the Chippewas' mediocre attack (6.2 yppl against teams that would allow 6.2 yppl) should move the ball at a good clip. My math model calls for a blowout win and gives Central Michigan a 59.5% chance of covering at -17 1/2 points. Ball State applies to a decent 57-21 ATS blowout bounce-back situation that will keep me from making this game a Best Bet unless the price goes down to -17. I'll consider Central Michigan a Strong Opinion at -19 points or less and I'd take the Chippewas in a 2-Star Best Bet at -17 points or less.
NORTH CAROLINA (-13) 42 East Carolina 23
East Carolina started the season with two deceiving wins over worse than average teams Tulsa (won on a Hail Mary pass) and Memphis. The Pirates were out-gained 6.1 yards per play to 6.6 yppl but those worse than average teams before losing 27-49 at Virginia Tech in a game in which they were out-gained 4.9 yppl to 7.9 yppl. Overall the Pirates have looked decent on the scoreboard (42.3 points per game and 41.7 ppg allowed), but they've been out-gained 5.7 yppl to 6.9 yppl by an average schedule of teams. North Carolina, meanwhile, is just 1-2 straight up but they've faced 3 better than average teams and have out-gained their opponents 5.8 yppl to 5.3 yppl, which is even better when you consider that LSU, Georgia Tech and Rutgers (UNC's opponents) would out-gain an average team by 0.5 yppl. North Carolina's offense appears to be mediocre at 21.7 points per game, but the 5.8 yppl they've averaged is 0.8 yppl more than what an average team would gain against that same schedule and it's unlikely that the Tarheels will continue to lose 2.3 fumbles per game. This game is going to seem so easy for the North Carolina offense, as they get to face a Pirates' stop unit that has surrendered 6.9 yppl to teams that would average just 5.4 yppl against an average team. North Carolina's defense is still without most of their star defenders, who are suspended, but they've actually been a bit better than average defensively anyway (5.3 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl against an average defensive team). East Carolina is just average offensively on a compensated yards per play basis, so keeping up with what their defense allows will be tough. Getting their first win last week after two close losses should spur on the Tarheels, as home favorites of 21 points or less are 40-19-2 ATS in game 4 if they got their first win of the season in game 3 after losing their first 2 games. I'll consider North Carolina a Strong Opinion at -14 points or less and I'd make the Tarheels a 2-Star Best Bet at -11 or less.
Temple (-5) 24 ARMY 10
Army is 3-1 and apparently that good record is clouding the judgment of the odds makers. The Cadets started the season with a 4 point win at Eastern Michigan thanks in part to a +2 in turnover margin. Beating Eastern Michigan by only 4 points is a bad result given that the Eagles are more than 20 points worse than an average team. Army then appeared to play pretty well in a 3 point home loss to Hawaii, but the Cadets were out-gained 4.4 yards per play to 7.5 yppl in that game. Next was a legitimate 24-0 win over an injury plagued North Texas team, but last week's 35-21 win at Duke was the result of a +5 turnover margin as Army was out-gained 4.8 yppl to 6.7 yppl by the Blue Devils (averaging only 4.8 yppl against Duke's horrible defense is bad). So, Army is 4-0 ATS but 3 of those spread wins were flukes and the Cadets are not close to being a decent team.
Army's offense has averaged a decent 5.1 yppl but they've faced 4 horrible defensive teams that would combine to allow 6.7 yppl to an average attack, so the Cadets actually have one of the worst offensive units in Division 1A. Temple's defense is 0.3 yppl better than average (5.5 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.8 yppl against an average team) and my math model projects just 4.0 yppl in this game for Army. Army's defense actually isn't too bad, as they rate at just 0.4 yppl worse than average (5.7 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.3 yppl against an average team), but their inability to defend the run (5.2 yards per rushing play allowed to teams that would average just 4.2 yprp) is a problem against a Temple team that likes to run the ball. Owls star running back Bernard Pierce was injured last week and is unlikely to play in this game and backup Matt Brown hasn't been nearly as good (5.2 ypr for Pierce and 4.0 ypr for Brown), but Brown's 4.0 ypr has come against defenses that would allow just 4.2 ypr to an average back, so his numbers aren't too bad and I project 5.8 ypr for Brown in this game and 6.0 yprp for the Owls as a team. Temple is expected to average 5.8 yppl in this game without Pierce, which is much better than the 4.0 yppl that Army is expected to get. The Owls also have much better special teams and it's unlikely that Army will continue to be +2.25 per game in turnover margin, which has helped mask the fact that they're not a good team. I'll take Temple in a 2-Star Best Bet at -6 1/2 points or less and for 3-Stars at -4 or less.
USC (-10) 40 Washington 24
Washington was an overhyped team with an overhyped quarterback entering the season, but I had the Huskies rated as the 45th best team in the nation and my numbers rated Jake Locker at just 0.4 yards per pass play better than an average quarterback. Washington may actually be worse than I thought, as their defense has shown no signs of improvement through 3 games - allowing 6.3 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl against an average team. USC's potent attack (7.2 yppl against teams that would allow 5.9 yppl) should have no trouble moving the ball in this game. Washington's offense looked really good the first two games before running into a good defense in week 3 against Nebraska, but the Huskies still rate at 0.9 yppl better than average offensively and Locker's numbers are still good despite a horrible performance against Nebraska (he's averaged 6.6 yards per pass play against teams that would allow just 5.3 yppp to an average quarterback). USC's defense was horrible in their opener against Hawaii, as they missed a ton of easy tackles. That probably had a lot to do with the fact that the Trojans didn't do any live tackling during August camp for fear of injury to a thinned roster hurt by losses of scholarships. However, USC has rebounded defensively with 3 consecutive solid performances, giving up 4.8 yppl or less in each of their last 3 games and rating at 0.3 yppl better than average in those 3 games (4.8 yppl allowed to Virginia, Minnesota, and Washington State, who would combine to average 5.1 yppl against an average defensive team). Washington will be able to move the ball on that defense, but not enough to keep up with what USC's offense will produce against a bad Huskies' defense. I'll consider USC a Strong Opinion at -11 points or less as they get revenge for last year's upset loss in Seattle (in which quarterback Matt Barkley didn't play).
Idaho (-3) 33 WESTERN MICHIGAN 24
Idaho lost on a last second field goal last week at Colorado State but the Vandals are still 3-1 ATS this season and still appear to be underrated. Idaho isn't as good offensively this season but they still have an average attack (5.8 yards per play against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average team) and the Vandals are much better on defense this year. Idaho didn't play well defensively last week, but their 0.5 yppl worse than average defensive rating (5.8 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.3 yppl against an average team) is a major improvement over last year's team (as it should be with 10 returning starters on that side of the ball) and that unit actually has a significant edge over a Western Michigan attack that has averaged 5.0 yppl against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average team. The Broncos' short passing offense does maintain possession of the ball (I have them running 12 more plays than Idaho), but I forecast just 4.8 yppl for the Broncos in this game. Idaho's average attack is good enough to do some damage against a bad Western Michigan defense that's given up 6.0 yppl to teams that would combine to average just 4.9 yppl against an average team. I actually think the Broncos' defense is a bit better than that, but I still get Idaho with 400 total yards at 6.2 yppl in this game after making an adjustment in Western Michigan's favor. Idaho is a better team than Western Michigan and teams that lose straight up as a road favorite usually bounce-back as a road favorite the next week (Idaho applies to a 45-16-3 ATS situation that is based on that premise). I'll consider Idaho a Strong Opinion at -3 points or less.
And now for my picks...
TENNESSEE 24 Denver 21 (+6.5)
Denver has been up and down so far this year but I think this is too many points for a team that matches up well with the Titans. They will be able to move the ball in the air and should be able to put up some points this week.
Baltimore 16 (+2) PITTSBURGH 9
This is where not having Big Ben will finally catch up with the Steelers. Baltimore looked lackluster against the Browns but they will be up for this game and simply have more firepower than the Steelers. The place to beat the Ravens right now is through the air and despite Batch's lucky performance last week, I don't think the Steelers can exploit that weakness.
San Francisco 20 (+6.5) ATLANTA 17
The Niners definitely look like a team ready to quit after an embarassing performance in Arrowhead but they are unlikely to quit and get the Falcons at just the right time. Niners will grind out an upset victory here.
ST. LOUIS (+1) 20 Seattle 17
Sam Bradford has been impressive thus far for the Rams and anytime you can get points against the Seahawks on the road, I'll bite.
NO 23 Carolina 17 (+13.5)
Carolina will grind this one out on the ground and will limit Drew and co's time with the ball. NO could easily be 1-2 or even 0-3 so I have a hard time seeing such a large line.