Thor Nystrom

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Week 6 CFB ATS Predictions

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


 

 

 

Louisville -3.5 at North Carolina State (Thursday)

 

Straight Up:  
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Against the Spread:


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Since the beginning of last season, Louisville has lost five times. Each time, it was to a team with a good-to-awesome defensive line: The Cardinals lost 42-36 to Clemson last October, 36-10 to Houston early last November, 41-38 to Kentucky a week later, 29-9 to LSU in the bowl game, and 47-21 to Clemson a few weeks back.

 

The formula to beating the Cardinals with Lamar Jackson under center is clear: Overwhelm his mediocre offensive line with your front seven, and you’ll slow the offense. Since Louisville doesn’t have a strong defense, slowing the offense is enough to put the Cardinals in peril.

 

North Carolina State fits the bill of a live underdog against Louisville due to its defensive front, one of the best in the FBS. Everybody knows Rd. 1 prospect DE Bradley Chubb, who already has 25 pressures this season. But he’s not the only disruptive force on a line that includes DT B.J. Hill and DE Kentavius Street.

 

The Wolfpack offense should be in for a big day here. QB Ryan Finley has been extremely efficient (the Wolfpack’s 72.1-percent completion rate ranks No. 7 nationally), and he is surrounded by NFL prospects in RB Nyheim Hines, all-purpose OW Jaylen Samuels and WRs Kelvin Harmon, Stephen Louis and Jakobi Meyers.

 

The Wolfpack’s stadium will be ruckus on Thursday night, with NC State ranked for the first time since 2010 and wearing ridiculously awesome "Black Howl" uniforms and Tuffy helmets. We anticipate NC State avenging last year’s 54-13 loss at Louisville.

 

Boise State -8 at BYU (Friday)

 

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Until further notice, we'll be fading BYU. The Cougars are 0-4 against FBS teams and 0-5 overall ATS this year (they failed to cover in the opening-week win over FCS Portland State). The Cougars were bad on offense with QB Tanner Mangum healthy, and they're utterly rudderless with him on the sidelines. Combine that unit with a lifeless defense, and you have the makings for what will be a disastrous season in Provo.

 

Whereas BYU has arguably underperformed its 1-4 record, Boise State's 2-2 mark doesn't do its team justice. In the opener, the Broncos beat Troy (which just upset LSU) by dougle-digits. Troy (4-1) hasn't lost since. A week later, Boise State lost in overtime to Washington State in Pullman. Wazzu improved to 5-0 last Friday by upsetting USC. In Week 3, Boise State thoroughly dominated 3-2 New Mexico.

 

Two weeks ago, the Broncos got dominated at home by Virginia. Since BSU was on bye last week, its no-show against the Cavaliers is mostly informing the public's tepid view of the team. It's for that reason that this line is in the single-digits. We'll be happy to take another bargain price betting against BYU. If we're right about the Cougars, these lines are about to get much steeper.

 

Virginia -2.5 vs. Duke

 

Straight Up:  
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The Cavaliers still aren’t getting the respect we think they deserve at the window, so we’ll return to them 15 days after they upset Boise State on the road as double-digit underdogs. The Cavs ride into this one fresh off a bye.

 

Duke enters off an embarrassing home loss to Miami that exposed a myriad of team weaknesses. The Blue Devils can beat bad teams with the combination of a methodical offense and an aggressive defense, but good teams won’t give Duke extra possessions by making unforced errors.

 

Virginia’s efficient offense is based on a pass-first mantra. It uses quick-hitting passes and sweeps to get the ball into its quick receiver’s hands in space. The Cavs’ 3-3-5 defense slows rushing attacks and forces opponents into disadvantageous third-and-long scenarios.

 

Expect Virginia to take advantage of Duke’s over-aggression on defense, and look for the Cavs to force Duke to throw more than they’re comfortable doing. Virginia has covered two straight against Duke, and this is their strongest team since 2011 (8-5 in Mike London's sole winning season).

 

 

Miami -3 at Florida State

 

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When this line opened at FSU -1 on Sunday, we tweeted that we’d be all over Miami. Not surprisingly, the line had been pounded to Miami -3 by Monday morning. According to one report that morning, more than 80-percent of early bets had streamed in on the Hurricanes.

 

It isn’t generally our strategy to take heavily public-backed road favorites—a long-term losing strategy if there ever was one—but we’re going to make an exception here.

 

Florida State is now 0-3 ATS if you had Wake Forest +7.5 in last week’s last-minute FSU win. The Seminoles have been unable to shake the stink they took on after starting QB Deondre Francois went down in Week 1 against Alabama. And that isn’t freshman QB James Blackman’s fault.

 

Blackman is raw, but he’s shown flashes of competency or better since taking over. No, the issue here is Florida State’s offensive line, which some think is the worst in the entire FBS. That might be overstating it, but not by much. Last week, 17 of the Seminoles' 64 offensive plays ended in a tackle for loss. That set a new single-game record for the Deacs. Unfortunately for FSU, Miami ranks No. 2 in the FBS in TFL per game, one spot behind Wake.

 

We still believe in FSU’s defense, but there’s only so much it can do when it’s regularly placed in bad field position. The burden proved too much a few weeks ago against NC State, and the defense barely salvaged last week’s win over a game Wake Forest squad.

 

Miami hasn’t beaten the archrival Seminoles since 2009. This is the time to break that streak, and they know it. The 3-0 Hurricanes look like legitimate ACC contenders. But they’ll have to pass this test to be viewed that way nationally. HC Mark Richt has long been reliable on the road, and we expect him to get his ‘Canes off the FSU snide here.

 

Syracuse -3.5 vs. Pittsburgh

 

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The Panthers are in the middle of a rebuild, having replaced two mid-round offensive stars (QB Nate Peterman and RB James Conner), a pair of Day 3 OL (Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty) and a nationally-respected OC (Matt Canada).

 

The defense has fallen off while the offense has looked aimless, leaving this team potentially in danger of missing the postseason. Pitt is languishing around No. 100 in many major offensive categories in the FBS.

 

The Orange probably won’t make the postseason either, but Syracuse is a team on an upward trajectory. The defense is a bit better than the unit that last season got embarrassed in a 76-61 loss to Pitt. Meanwhile, the Orange offense can move the ball on anyone.

 

Syracuse is 3-0 ATS over the past three weeks, beginning with a double-digit win over Central Michigan before a pair of within-the-number losses to LSU and NC State. The Orange shouldn’t have any problem scoring on Pitt, and the Panther offense isn’t up for a shootout when the game inevitably calls for just that.

 

Florida -3 vs. LSU

 

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LSU is 5-2 both SU and ATS in the last seven games of this series. Last year, though, Florida used a goal line stand to win 16-10. The Gators were soundly outplayed in every facet of the game outside of the scoreboard. LSU outgained UF 423-270.

 

We expect a similar down-to-the-wire theme this time.

 

LSU should be healthier after it was without RB Derrius Guice and a few defensive starters in last week’s upset loss to Troy.

 

Florida has turned the offense back over to Feleipe' Franks with QB Luke Del Rio out for the year (shoulder surgery). We came into the season with high expectations for Franks, but those frayed quickly.

 

Without RB Jordan Scarlett and WR Antonio Callaway (as well as WR Rick Wells and WR Tyrie Cleveland, who will miss this one due to injury), Florida doesn’t have the skill talent to make big plays with the ball against good defenses. We saw that in the opener against Michigan, and we even saw it in the last-second win over a Tennessee team that has proven itself mediocre since.

 

If Franks had a strong supporting cast, his bazooka arm would play it up by creating natural space by forcing safeties back. But without reliable deep threats on the perimeter, and without a reliable back joining him in the backfield, opponents don’t have to cheat. Instead, they can slow the running game without extra man power and make things even harder on Franks in the intermediate area without leaving themselves susceptible to home runs.

 

LSU looks like something of a mess right now, but the defense remains talented, and it is still run by one of the games best DC’s in Dave Aranda. If that defense plays well on Saturday—and there’s no reason to think that it won’t against an offense as limited as Florida’s—then the ball-control offense should do its part in keeping this game close.

 

Florida’s offense has been held to 28 points or less in three of four games this year, and LSU, despite the perception of its defensive struggles, is allowing less than 20 points per game.

 

 Washington State -2.5 at Oregon

 

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Eight days after ambushing Southern California in Pullman on a Friday night, Wazzu gets a crack at Oregon with the Ducks down several key contributors. With a win in Eugene, the Cougars will be considered legitimate contenders in the Pac-12 North.

 

The USC game was perceived as an upset nationally, but not locally. The Cougars expected to beat the Trojans. If they follow it up by beating the Ducks, nobody will be surprised. Mike Leach is 5-for-5 ATS against Oregon since taking over at Wazzu.

 

It will be hard for Oregon to reverse that trend with the injuries they're dealing with: QB Justin Herbert (out four-to-six weeks with a collarbone), backup QB Taylor Alie (day-to-day with an undisclosed injury), RB Royce Freeman (also day-to-day with an undisclosed injury), WR Charles Nelson (listed as a starter for this game after sitting the past two with a leg injury), WR Dillion Mitchell (day-to-day with an undisclosed injury) and TE Jacob Breeland (listed as a starter after sitting out last week with an undisclosed injury). If Alie can’t go, Oregon will start No. 3 QB Braxton Burmeister. Alie and Burmeister were listed as co-starters on this week's depth chart.

 

The Ducks have had great success running the ball under Willie Taggart. Oregon leads the nation in rushing touchdowns. Oregon has run the ball on 61.13-percent of its plays, and that was mostly with Herbert behind center. With a third-stringer back there, you’d assume the Ducks would skew even more run-centric, and that’s where the loss of Freeman would really sting.

 

This seems like it could be the year of Mike Leach. Win here, and there’s a decent chance the Cougars will be 9-0 when they host Stanford on Nov. 4. Get ready for a week of chatter into whether Wazzu is a legitimate Playoff contender.

 

Purdue -4 vs. Minnesota

 

Straight Up:  
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Minnesota’s 3-0 start under HC P.J. Fleck was a bit of a mirage. The Gophers struggled to put away Buffalo in the opener (a 17-7 win), beat up a bad Oregon State a week later, and then pulverized a Middle Tennessee State team that was playing without injured star QB Brent Stockstill and mostly without banged-up star WR Richie James in Week 3.

 

Last week, we saw what a team with talent can do to the Gophers. Maryland, a double-digit road underdog forced to start their third-string quarterback, ran all over the Gophers and derailed Minnesota’s one-dimensional offense. The Gophers ran for 80 yards and Conor Rhoda did Conor Rhoda things (50-percent completions, two interceptions).

 

The Gophers were unable to capitalize on Terps QB Max Bortenschlager’s inexperience. Not only are the Gophers not terribly disruptive up front, but they are young and inexperienced in the secondary. That isn’t a great fit against a team coached by Jeff Brohm.

 

Not only should Purdue have no problem moving the ball through the air against the Gophers, but Purdue’s defensive strength of stopping the run is a nice fit in this matchup.

 

The run-first Gophers can’t get the passing attack going unless defenses are biting on play action, and if Purdue doesn’t need to sell out to stop Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, Rhoda isn’t going to have obvious passing windows to throw into. We know what happens if he doesn't have those.

 

Navy -7.5 vs. Air Force

 

Straight Up:  
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The Falcons lost most of their defense over the offseason (12 of the top 13 in tackling), and issues on that side of the ball may prevent Air Force from reaching a bowl game this season. Off of understandable losses to Michigan and San Diego State, Air Force got annihilated 56-38 by New Mexico last week. That was a little less understandable. It was also alarming ahead of a game against a team that runs the triple-option better than the Lobos do.

 

If the Falcons had trouble with the Lobos—and they did, allowing 363 yards and six touchdowns on the ground and 146 yards and two more scores through air—then they’re really going to have issues slowing down Navy QB Zach Abey and crew.

 

In recent years, this series hasn’t produced close games. Navy won by 22 in 2015 and 18 in 2013, while Air Force won by 14 last year and nine in 2014. We anticipate the Midshipmen moving to 5-0 by continuing that theme, trouncing Air Force by double-digits on Saturday.

 

 

Stanford -5.5 at Utah

 

Straight Up:  
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In the two games between Kyle Whittingham and David Shaw, the Utes went 2-0 and both games went under the total. We see another low-scoring affair here, and we want the points. Not only is Whittingham perfect against Stanford, but he’s long been a reliable home ‘dog.

 

Both teams recently underwent quarterback changes. The Utes lost Tyler Huntley to injury and replaced him with former starter Troy Williams. Williams, who was beat out by Huntley this summer, looked good after coming on in relief last week against Arizona.

 

Stanford will start freshman K.J. Costello for the second straight week. The Cardinal withheld Keller Chryst due to a concussion last week. Costello will be given every opportunity to keep the job.

 

Stanford’s offense will lean on RB Bryce Love, who’s already rushed for over 1,000 yards (Love has more 20-plus yard runs than every FBS team outside of Notre Dame). Utah has a solid rushing defense, but Love obviously presents a strenuous assignment. If Love doesn’t have a huge game, the pressure will be on Costello to perform in the second half.

 

If you need more of a push, consider that Utah is 31-17 ATS when coming off a bye since 1992, and 63-35 over that span as an underdog.

 

Two for the Road:

 

SMU +6 vs. Houston

 

South Carolina +2.5 vs. Arkansas

 

*** 

 

2017 Record: Straight-Up: 41-22 (65.1%); Against the Spread: 30-31-2 (49.2%)

  

2014-2016: Straight-Up: 350-197 (64.0%); Against the Spread: 286-250-11 (53.4%)



Thor Nystrom is a former MLB.com associate reporter whose writing has been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to Rotoworld's college football writer on Twitter @thorku.
Email :Thor Nystrom



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