Tough couple weeks led me to take a week off for Thanksgiving. Hope to get back on the winning streak this week. My record sits at 27-23-4 and Dr. Bob's at 29-25. So I'm winning by percentage points.
On to this week's picks...
BOISE STATE (-38) 50 Utah State 7
Boise State is coming off a crushing overtime loss at Nevada and that is the only reason that they wouldn't win this game by 40 points or more. Boise's scoring margin this season is 46.3 points to 13.5 points playing a schedule that is 1.6 points easier than average. Thus, their compensated scoring margin is +31.2 points, which is 46.3 - 13.5 - 1.6. Utah State is just over 13 points worse than an average team and this game is being played in Boise (standard home field is 3.8 points in college), so if Boise were to beat an average team by 31.2 points on a neutral field then they'd figure to beat Utah State, 13 points below average, by about 48 points at home. My math model actually doesn't use points, but my model comes up with Boise by 48 points also. The problem is that Boise State now lacks the incentive to run up the score and they are no doubt thinking more about last week's loss than this week's opponents. Teams that suffer their first loss of the season in the second half of the season tend to struggle as favorites against mediocre and bad teams in their next game. However, I doubt that trend is worth 9 points, and I'll still lean with Boise State.
Northern Ill (-17.5) 36 Miami Ohio 13 (at Detroit, MI)
Northern Illinois has scored 195 points in their last 3 games while scoring 59 points or more in each game. It's generally best not to buck teams on that sort of offensive roll, as teams that have scored 50 points or more in 3 consecutive games are 17-1 ATS against conference opponents in their next game as long as their foe isn't coming off a bye week that would allow them to prepare better. The only loss was Oregon earlier this season against a very good Cal defense that ranks among the best in the nation. Miami-Ohio's defense is worse than average (5.5 yards per play allowed to teams that would combine to average just 4.9 yppl against an average team) and the Redhawks have been overwhelmed by the two good offensive teams that they've faced this season - allowing 8.2 yppl and 51 points to Missouri and 9.1 yppl and 45 points to Cincinnati. Northern Illinois can run and pass effectively and the Huskies have averaged 7.2 yppl in 10 games against Division 1A opponents with Chandler Harnish at quarterback (he wasn't the quarterback in the opener when they lost to Iowa State) while facing teams that would allow 6.0 yppl to an average attack. That average is skewed by last week's 13.7 yards per play against Eastern Michigan, but I adjusted for that and my math model projects 434 yards at 7.0 yppl for the Huskies in this game.
Miami-Ohio's offense is 0.5 yppl worse than average of the season (5.4 yppl against teams that would combine to allow 5.9 yppl to an average team) and the Redhawks are a bit worse offensively without starting quarterback Zac Dysert. Backup Austin Boucher has similar stats as Dysert had, but Boucher has faced much easier competition and his compensated yards per pass play rating is 0.4 yppp worse than the team average, which makes the Miami-Ohio offense 0.7 yppl worse than average heading into this game. The Northern Illinois defense is just 0.1 yppl worse than average (5.1 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.0 yppl against an average team), so I don't see how the Redhawks will be able to stay close in this game without the benefit of turnovers since my math model projects just 294 yars at 4.8 yppl for the Redhawks. Miami has been fortunate with turnovers this season (+0.6 per game), but Northern Illinois has committed just 10 total turnovers in 11 games with Harnish at quarterback and the Huskies' defense is forcing an average of 2.0 turnovers per game so Miami can't really depend on winning the turnover battle (my math model projects a 0.6 turnover advantage for NIU). Overall the math favors Northern Illinois by 20 ½ points and the line value along with the 17-1 ATS momentum angle is enough for me to consider Northern Illinois a Strong Opinion at -19 points or less.
LOUISIANA TECH 34 Nevada (-9.0) 39
Louisiana Tech can trade points with Nevada, as the Bulldogs have averaged 35.3 points in 6 games since quarterback Ross Jenkins returned to the lineup, and the Wolf Pack have a bad defense that's given up 5.7 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.1 yppl against an average team. Louisiana Tech also matches up pretty well against a run-oriented Nevada offense since the Bulldogs are actually solid defending the run (4.9 yards per rushing play against teams that would average 4.8 yprp against an average team) while being horrible against the pass (7.3 yppp allowed to teams that would average 6.0 yppp). Nevada runs the ball 63% of the time so they aren't going to take full advantage of Louisiana Tech's defensive weakness. My math model favors Nevada by 9 ½ points and the line has come down from 13 to 9 ½, so there is no longer any line value in this game. However, Nevada is in a major letdown situation after upsetting Boise State last week, as road favorites are historically bad bets after winning as a home underdog the previous week. In fact, Nevada applies to a negative 15-51-1 ATS situation that is based on that premise. Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, applies to a 60-17-1 ATS momentum home underdog situation and they'll be fired up for this game as they try to become bowl eligible. I'll consider Louisiana Tech a Strong Opinion at +7 ½ points or more based on the strong situational analysis.
FLORIDA INTL. (-5.0) 33 Middle Tenn 23
The line on this game opened at 7 points, and I thought that was a bit too low. Apparently, there are still believers in the overrated Blue Raiders, who are just 3-8 ATS this season and haven't covered in consecutive games (they covered last week). Florida International, meanwhile, has won 4 straight games (and covered their last 3) to wrap up the Sun Belt title with a 6-1 league record and they are clearly better than Middle Tennessee State. For the season Middle Tennessee has been out-gained 349 yards at 5.1 yards per play to 388 yards at 5.2 yppl despite facing a schedule of Division 1A teams that is 14.3 points easier than an average schedule. Florida International, meanwhile, has out-gained their opponents 403 yards at 5.8 yppl to 365 yards at 5.5 yppl while playing a schedule that is 7.2 points easier than average. FIU has performed better on the field than MTS this season despite playing a schedule of teams that is 7 points tougher than the Blue Raiders faced. Some people argue that Middle Tennessee is better since quarterback Dwight Dasher returned from a 4 game suspension to start the season but the Raiders have actually been worse with Dasher, who has thrown 13 interceptions in his 7 games while the team's compensated yards per play has gotten worse. My math model favors Florida International by 8 ½ points in this game and the Panthers apply to a 48-16-1 ATS late season home momentum situation. I would get FIU by 10 points using conference games only, so I just don't see any reason why the line went down from 7 points. The case being made for Middle Tennessee is that they need this game to get to 6-6 and become bowl eligible, but needing to win and being able to win are two different things. If the Raiders could whenever they needed to then they wouldn't be in a must win situation to begin with. Florida International may have already wrapped up the Sun Belt title but I don't see that as a reason to not play hard against a team that beat them 48-21 last year. I'll consider Florida International a Strong Opinion in this game and I'd take FIU as a 2-Star Best Bet if the line gets down to -3 points or less.
HAWAII (-34.5) 51 UNLV 12
UNLV has lost their last 8 road games by an average margin of 34 points with an average line of just +19 points. I won a Best Bet going against the Rebels on the road last week, as they fell behind San Diego State 7-48 before scoring a late touchdown to close within 34 points. Hawaii, meanwhile, won 59-24 as a 27 point home favorite over New Mexico State for a Best Bet winner too and going with Hawaii and against UNLV on the road looks like a formula that should work again. Hawaii is a pass heavy team that can also run the ball (336 rushing yards and 306 pass yards last week) and UNLV has allowed 5.6 yards per rushing play and 8.5 yards per pass play to a mediocre schedule of offensive teams. The Rebels have faced 5 good offensive teams (although none as good as Hawaii) and the Rebels gave up an average of 44 points in those games against Wisconsin, Utah, Nevada, TCU, and San Diego State). Hawaii, meanwhile, has produced 41 points or more in 7 of their last 9 games, failing to do so only against conference powers Nevada (who they beat) and Boise State. The Warriors scored 59 points last week against the only defense as bad as that of UNLV and my math model projects 52 points for Hawaii in this game. Hawaii should score at least 49 points and all they'd need to do is hold UNLV to 14 points or fewer, which is reasonable.
UNLV's offense has averaged just 4.4 yards per play (against teams that would allow 5.4 yppl to an average team) and their median points scored is 12 points. Hawaii is known for their potent offense but the Warriors also have a better than average defense that has been particularly strong against mediocre and bad offensive teams. Hawaii has allowed 5.2 yppl for the season (to teams that would combine to average 5.4 yppl against an average team), but that unit had horrible games against really good offensive teams USC (8.5 yppl allowed to the Trojans) and Boise State (9.5 yppl allowed). The Warriors have dominated bad offensive teams, giving up just 181 yarsd at 3.0 yppl to Utah State, 164 yards at 2.5 yppl to San Jose State and 225 yards at 3.0 yppl to New Mexico State last week (the 24 points NMSU scored was a fluke). My math model projects just 12 points for UNLV in this game, which is reasonable considering the Rebels' median production is 12 points and Hawaii better than the average defensive they've faced. Hawaii is not the sort of team that lets up, as they've won 5 games this season by 34 points or more and UNLV is the sort of team that gives up when they get down on the road. UNLV also applies to a negative 51-111-4 ATS situation that plays against road underdogs with a horrible defense and that angle 8-31-1 ATS when applying to dogs of more than 28 points. I'll consider Hawaii a Strong Opinion at -35 points or less.
And on to my picks...
South Carolina +5.5 over auburn
Just think this is a tough spot for auburn who come off an impressive emotional victory at Alabama. South Carolina will keep this close and can definitely spring the upset.
Bills +5.5 @ Minnesota
Bills continue to be a competitive team, and I like them as a dog against a Minnesota team that is still simply a bad team lead by a bad quarterback.
Denver +9 @ KC
Will the broncos quit on McDaniel? I don't think so and I think this is too many points to give a team that will be able to move the ball. There is revenge in the air but I don't think that is worth giving up nine points for.
Lions +5 over Chicago
Lions were a mess against the Patriots but the game turned on turnovers and I just don't see Jay Cutler continuing such a turnover free life so I expect the lions to win the turnover battle and also the game.
Steelers +3 @ ravens
In what will be a low scoring game I will take the points and the better team.