Thor Nystrom

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Week 11 CFB ATS Predictions

Thursday, November 9, 2017


 

 

 

Washington -6 at Stanford (Friday)

 

Straight Up: Washington Huskies logo

Against the Spread:

Washington Huskies logo

 

We cashed with Washington State against Stanford last week, and we’ll return to the fade-Stanford well with RB Bryce Love still not looking like he’s 100-percent healthy. As Love goes, so does his team.

Two weeks ago, without Love (ankle), the Cardinal got lucky to beat Oregon State by one point. Last week, Stanford dropped a three-point decision to Wazzu with Love not his usual explosive self. 

Love had 69 rushing yards on 16 carries (4.3 YPA) against the Cougars, but he got 52 of those yards on a touchdown sprint in the second quarter. Outside of that, he turned his 15 other carries into 17 yards (1.1 YPA). Prior to getting hurt a few weeks ago, Love was averaging 10.3 YPA on his 1,387 rushing yards.

Love struggled against Wazzu, a team that is pretty good at defending the run. Washington is downright elite. The Huskies boast the No. 12 rushing defense in the country, per S&P+, but they’re particularly dominant against the one thing Stanford can do on offense if Love is healthy: Stop explosive plays. 

Per S&P+, Washington is No. 1 in the country at preventing long offensive plays, No. 1 at preventing explosive rushing plays and No. 1 at preventing explosive passing plays. Washington outright refuses to get beaten deep, and we’ve seen what Stanford’s offense reverts to when Love isn’t ripping off multiple home run touchdown carries per game.

Not only does Washington match up really well with Stanford, but they come into this one humming. Outside of the shocking loss to Arizona State last month (the defense came to play, but the offense stayed back in Seattle), the Huskies have won each of their eight games by a minimum of 16 points. 

The Huskies are 5-1 ATS in their last six games. Last week, they wrecked Oregon by 35. The week before, UCLA by 21. We see another double-digit beatdown forthcoming.

 

 

UNLV -4 vs. BYU (Friday)

 

Straight Up: UNLV Rebels logo

Against the Spread:

UNLV Rebels logo

 

We’ve turned a nice profit by fading BYU (2-8 SU, 2-8 ATS) throughout the campaign. After taking last week off from the BYU side (a 20-13 loss to Fresno State as 10-point underdogs), we’re back to try to make more money off the Cougars while HC Kalani Sitake still has a job.

BYU’s offense is unwatchable (No. 125 S&P+), its defense is sub-mediocre (No. 66 in the FBS with 29.3 ppg allowed), and its coaching staff is quite candid about the fact that the program has regressed over the past two years. 

“We as coaches have failed the team,” assistant coach Ed Lamb said. “… We’re building a culture and it’s not yet built in any way, shape or form in the way we see it being built. We’re behind schedule.”

The issues with the offense are myriad. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Gordon Monson broke it down thusly earlier this week: “BYU’s offense regularly is required to maintain 15-play drives to score, a requirement that has been too difficult. Mistakes — a dropped pass, a missed block, a wayward throw, a stupid penalty — have been enough to rupture drives and underscore futility. Play along both lines must improve. But that lack of playmakers has been the season-killer.”

That about sums it up. And we have more bad news: Starting QB Tanner Mangum, arguably the team’s most talented offensive player, was ruled out for the season this week. That means that the team will likely turn back to the ineffective Beau Hoge (48.7% completions and a 2/3 TD/INT rate this year). 

The issue with that plan is that Hoge is dealing with an unspecified injury and may not be able to return to the field on Saturday. If Hoge can’t go, BYU will have to turn back to the exposed Koy Detmer Jr. (7-for-20 for 91 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT vs. Utah State) or raw freshman QB Joe Critchlow, who was never supposed to play a down this season.

You can score on UNLV (No. 108). But without Mangum, can BYU score on anybody? They’re going to have to, because the Rebels rank No. 47 in the FBS on offense (averaging 424.4 yards per game) and are similar in S&P+’s methodology (No. 48). 

While exciting UNLV dual-threat QB Armani Rogers is questionable for this one—the Rebels indicated that week that he has a decent chance of playing—we don’t see his loss as being anywhere near as debilitating as Mangum’s is to BYU. UNLV has a legitimate backup in Johnny Stanton, who has started in the past. 

Stanton is probably a better passer than Rogers at this point—adding an aerial dimension to the Rebels’ offense—but he’s nowhere near the runner that Rogers is. UNLV RB Lexington Thomas (1,063 yards, 14 TD) should have a big day, regardless of who is handing him the ball.

 

 

Duke -3 at Army

 

Straight Up: Duke Blue Devils logo

Against the Spread:

Duke Blue Devils logo

 

Admittedly, this pick is more of a leap of faith in David Cutcliffe’s coaching ability than a pure handicap. Because these team’s profiles indicate that Army should be the pick, not Duke.

The Blue Devils are 0-5 since starting the season 4-0. Meanwhile, Army is 5-0 since starting 2-2. S&P+ pinned this line at Army -7.4. Duke is in jeopardy of missing the postseason if they don’t snap out of their funk ASAP and prove the computer models wrong. 

And that’s where Cutcliffe and his coaching staff come in.

For Duke to make a bowl game, this is a must-win contest. The Blue Devils are the more talented team on paper, and they’re in a nice spot to show it. Not only are their backs against the wall, but they had a bye last week to prepare for the stretch run (Army, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest). 

Win two of the three, and you go bowling. Not only did Duke have two weeks to prepare for the Army-Georgia Tech triple-option two-step, but the Blue Devils have proven to be one of the country’s best at defending the option over the last few years. Duke is 6-0 ATS against the service academies and Georgia Tech in their last six games. 

Duke has won its past two games against Army, and it didn’t surrender even 215 yards of total offense in either. The Blue Devils desperately need to win this game, while Army’s postseason ticket is punched. Expect Duke to come out with something to prove.

 
 

Air Force -3 vs. Wyoming

 

Straight Up:

Air Force Falcons logo

Against the Spread:

Air Force Falcons logo

 

As with the EMU-CMU game above, this line looks a bit off at first blush: How is 4-5 Air Force laying a field goal against 6-3 Wyoming? Whereas EMU is undervalued due to a series of close losses, Air Force comes in with a poor record in part because of a difficult schedule.

The Falcons’ bowl hopes were put in jeopardy by a four-game losing streak early in the season when they were forced to play Michigan, San Diego State, New Mexico and Navy back-to-back-to-back-to-back. The Falcons righted the ship with three straight wins against Mountain West teams before the offense took the day off in last week’s 21-0 loss to Army. 

This week’s opponent, Wyoming, has been in the national media spotlight throughout the fall because of NFL prospect QB Josh Allen, a potential first-round pick. But the Cowboys are 6-3—and not worse—because of their defense (No. 12 S&P+), and not because of Allen. 

Wyoming began the season 1-2 but is 5-1 in its last six because the Cowboys’ defense creates turnovers (No. 2 in the FBS with +15 takeaways) and explosive defensive plays (No. 3 S&P+) with the best in the nation.

But that’s part of the issue, at least as far as it comes to this specific handicap. S&P+ would tell you that Wyoming is benefiting from 5.09 ppg in turnover luck. Question 1: How much of that is sustainable? Question 2: How sustainable is it against the triple-option running Falcons?

Air Force hasn’t been great at taking care of the ball—they’re -5 in takeaways (No. 101)—but they’re also No. 22 S&P+ in offensive efficiency and No. 2 in finishing drives. The rushing attack is slick. Now if only QB Arion Worthman could learn to take better care of the ball on the move. At least Air Force won’t ask him to throw into Wyoming’s secondary, which will mitigate one of Wyoming’s primary team strengths. 

The Falcons don’t play good defense, but we’re starting to give up on the idea that Allen will become the collegiate star that we want him to be. He’s been thoroughly mediocre this fall, averaging 176.4 passing yards per game on 55.4% completions and 5.7 YPA with a 12/6 TD/INT ratio and five fumbles. 

Allen got bailed out by his defense last week in an upset win over Colorado State. If Air Force can control the clock and keep the ball off the carpet this weekend, they’ll force Allen to beat them. Based on what we’ve seen this year, we don’t like his odds.

 

 

Georgia -3 at Auburn

 

Straight Up: Auburn Tigers logo

Against the Spread:

Auburn Tigers logo

 

We were higher on Auburn than Georgia coming into the season, and we’re going to stick with that conviction in investing in the Tigers at home in this spot.

We’re belied by a few different things we read this week, including this gem of a stat: In the College Football Playoff era, teams with perfect records are 20-39-1 (33.9%) ATS in November and December. 

We don’t bet trends—which say more about departed players and coaches than they do current ones—but we buy this one. That undefeated teams are overvalued and unable to wallop motivated underdogs each week down the stretch is understandable.

Of course, Auburn isn’t like most of those 39 underdogs that have covered late in the season in recent years. The Tigers had Playoff aspirations themselves coming into the year.

While the public perception is that Georgia is the clearly superior team (in part because they’re No. 1 in the Playoff rankings), S&P+ sees these teams fairly similarly, ranking Georgia No. 4 and Auburn No. 9. S&P+ set this line at Georgia -1.8, just about exactly what the Vegas number has it at.

And yet, because of perception, the betting public raced to the counter to buy tickets on Georgia earlier this week, as Dave Mason, the offshore brand manager for BetOnline.ag, told Covers.com on Monday: “Georgia is by far the most popular bet on the entire betting board so far, with 93 percent of early bettors on the Dawgs. Even with the line move, bettors are still pounding Georgia and are counting on them to cover and beat Auburn for the sixth time in the last seven years.”

Early Wednesday evening, when this column went to press, 70-percent of spread bets had come in on Georgia, per the website Sports Insights. Despite heavy action on the Bulldogs, this line hasn’t budged. After opening at Georgia -3, it briefly dropped to -2 during the week. At the time of publication, half the books we monitor had the line at Georgia -3, and the other half had it at -2.5. 

The question becomes: With the majority of bets coming in on one side, why hasn’t the line moved upwards? We have to suspect the reason is that the larger bets—generally from sharper bettors—are coming in on Auburn. We like to back reverse line movement when it makes sense, and we see this as one of those opportunities (while acknowledging that we’re opposing the public at large and most college football writers who’ve offered an opinion on this game).

S&P+ prefers Auburn’s defense to Georgia’s (by a little). And while that system indicates that Georgia has the better offense, we prefer Tigers third-year QB Jarrett Stidham to Bulldogs true freshman Jake Fromm in a one-off situation like this. It’s nearly impossible to get your ground game going against Georgia—as Notre Dame can attest—but you can potentially throw on them. 

The Bulldogs have skated through this season only facing two quarterbacks who are currently considered NFL prospects (Nick Fitzgerald and Drew Lock). While the run-first Fitzgerald struggled, the pocket-passing Lock threw for four touchdowns against the Bulldogs secondary. If Stidham gets going, Saturday could be his national coming out party.

We believe Auburn will end Georgia’s perfect season on Saturday.

 

 

FAU -6 at Louisiana Tech

 

Straight Up: FAU Owls logo

Against the Spread:

FAU Owls logo

 

Last week, we were on Marshall getting 6.5 against FAU. This time around, we’re hopping to FAU laying a similar number against Louisiana Tech, a team we see as far inferior to Marshall.

S&P+ would agree with that assessment—it ranks the Thundering Herd No. 54 overall and the Bulldogs No. 84. Louisiana Tech has yet to beat a team ranked higher than it is in S&P+’s methodology. LTU’s best win of the season? That would be last month’s 34-16 win against S&P+ No. 90 South Alabama. 

Louisiana Tech has badly regressed on offense with QB Ryan Higgins and WRs Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson no longer on campus. S&P+ pegs the attack No. 63 in the nation. Since the defense—No. 97 S&P+—remains poor, you can understand why the program has taken on water this fall.

That defense is particularly bad against the run. Per S&P+, it ranks No. 127 overall against the run, No. 121 in defensive efficiency, No. 130 (dead last in the FBS) in Rushing Success Rate (i.e. how often they stop you from doing what you’re wanting to do), No. 122 in Adjusted Line Yards and No. 125 in run defense Opportunity Rate. Basically, the Bulldogs get bullied by any team that wants to run. 

Running the ball is FAU’s M.O. S&P+’s No. 24 overall team ranks No. 6 in S&P+ rushing offense. In every category LTU struggles to defend on the ground, FAU has proven elite. The Owls are No. 7 in Rushing Success Rate, No. 11 in Adjusted Line Yards and No. 3 in Power Success Rate. 

Star RB Devin Singletary has rushed for 1,256 yards and 19 touchdowns on 6.7 YPA this year. Not only is Singletary one of the Group of 5’s best players—and one of the FBS’ best running backs period—but he has one of the nation’s best backup runners behind him in Gregory Howell, Jr. (6.6 YPA on 532 yards rushing). 

It’s possible to stop FAU’s passing attack, which needs more time to round into form after transitioning into Kendal Briles’ Baylor spread scheme this fall. But nobody has been able to stop FAU’s rushing attack for the past month-plus.

Few teams have suffered as many injuries as the Bulldogs have this year, and they appear to be staggering towards the end of a season that won’t include a trip to a bowl game (not unless they upset either FAU or UTSA, anyway). They match up exceedingly poorly with FAU, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if things get out of hand on Saturday.

 

 

Wisconsin -12.5 vs. Iowa

 

Straight Up: Wisconsin Badgers logo

Against the Spread:

Iowa Hawkeyes logo

 

Speaking of teams dealing with a ridiculous amount of injuries, have you seen the Badgers’ injury report? There’s 16 players on it this week. 

Starting LB Chris Orr and WR Quintez Cephus were new adds. Both are ruled out for Saturday’s game, as are Luke Benzschawel (right leg), WR Jazz Peavy (right leg) and WR George Rushing (left leg). Not only that, but starting S D’Cota Dixon, RB Chris James (left leg) and DE Isaiahh Loudermilk (left leg) are all questionable. That group joins six players who had previously been ruled out for the year (another transferred).

At some point, those injuries are going to catch up to the Badgers. That may not be on Saturday, but this is not a good week to be going into a game at half-strength.

Iowa comes in having blasted Ohio State 55-28. Your author was at that game. It wasn’t a fluke. Iowa QB Nate Stanley is raw, but when he’s on, like he was last Saturday, he looks like a future star, with a big frame and the guts to hang in the pocket with bullets whizzing by. 

Iowa already had the running game (Akrum Wadley and James Butler) and defense (led by potential Rd. 1 LB Josey Jewell) figured out. The last piece of the puzzle was developing Stanley enough to keep opposing defenses honest.

We’re not going to say that Stanley is there yet. He’d been up-and-down all year coming into last week, and Iowa’s coaching staff needs more time to develop his enticing tools. That said, if Stanley has indeed taken a step forward, the Hawkeyes can suddenly compete with anyone.

The Hawkeyes and Badgers both win by controlling the clock, grinding you down and playing sound defense. Both teams are comfortable playing close games that aren’t decided until late in the fourth quarter. With the heavy favorite compromised by injuries, and the underdog suddenly looking to have fortified their biggest weakness, we expect this one to be closer than the number suggests it will be.

 


Missouri -12 vs. Tennessee

 

Straight Up: Missouri Tigers logo

Against the Spread:

Tennessee Volunteers logo

 

This line was juiced up from -7.5 by the fade-Tennessee crowd, but it remains objectively fair (S&P+ has the line at Missouri -10.1, OddsShark has Missouri -11, TeamRankings has Mizzou by 11.9, and NumberFire has the Tigers by 15.9).

Missouri enters on a three-game winning streak in which it has outscored opponents 165-49, most recently annihilating Florida 45-16. To be fair, all three of the opponents rank No. 103 S&P+ or worse (Idaho and UConn, in addition to the Gators). Regardless, the Tigers lead the SEC in offense with 484.1 yards per game.

The Vols’ failed offense will likely cost Butch Jones his job this winter. Tennessee ranks dead last in the SEC in a series of offensive categories including yards per game, yards per play, yards per carry, TFL allowed per game and third-down conversion rate (and just out of the cellar in points per game at No. 13).

Longtime position coach Larry Scott, who took over OC duties when the maligned Mike Debord was kicked to the curb, has been overmatched, but he hasn’t been helped by the numerous injuries the team has dealt with, most pressingly along the offensive line.

It’s no surprise that the Vols’ offense ranks a ghastly No. 120 in S&P+. While the line has done young QB Justin Guarantano no favors (No. 114 in Adj. Sack Rate), the run blocking remains solid (No. 34 in Adj. Line Yards and No. 15 in power success rate).

So why are we on the Vols here? Because they’re more talented (on paper anyway), and they match up really well with the Tigers. Missouri is an all-or-nothing offensive team that can’t win unless it is getting explosive plays through the air. The Tigers rank No. 3 S&P+ IsoPPP (explosion) and No. 4 in S&P+ passing IsoPPP. 

The Tigers are wretched on defense (No. 109 S&P+ defense) and a bit compromised in the running game with star RB Damarea Crockett set to miss a third straight game following undergoing shoulder surgery on Oct. 20.

The Vols still have a solid defense (No. 39 S&P+), and their biggest defensive strength is stopping explosive plays (No. 4 S&P+). Tennessee can struggle against the run, but they’re quite good against the pass (No. 24 S&P+). 

On offense, Tennessee can’t throw, but they can run. The Vols rank No. 13 in S&P+ rushing offense behind star RB John Kelly, who has 694 yards and eight touchdowns (along with 27 catches for 250 yards) despite missing the Kentucky game due to suspension. 

With its poor No. 96 S&P+ run defense, Missouri isn’t really equipped to stop him. Kelly rushed for 101 yards against Mizzou in last year’s 63-37 win (Josh Dobbs threw for five touchdowns). 

If Missouri can be consistently explosive through the air while stopping the run on Saturday, they’ll blow Tennessee out. We just don’t think the matchup is good for them on either front. If Missouri beats Tennessee (No. 96 in S&P+’s team rankings), it’ll be the first team the Tigers have beaten in the top-100 of S&P’s rankings all year.


Michigan -16.5 at Maryland

 

Straight Up:

Against the Spread:

 

We were on Michigan -15.5 at home against Minnesota last week (a 33-10 win), and the same rules apply here.

 

Maryland (No. 97 S&P+) is worse than Minnesota (No. 81). And even that meager ranking probably flatters the Terps, as it's based on stats and not current circumstance. Former third-stringer Max Bortenschlager will be a game-time decision after he was knocked out of last week's game against Rutgers. That means that fourth-stringer Ryan Brand, an Air Force transfer, might start.

 

Even with a fourth-stringer running the show, the Terps' offense isn't the team's biggest issue. Maryland ranks No. 115 in the FBS with 40.9 ppg allowed.

 

Michigan remains undervalued because of its shortcomings at the window (2-8 ATS over their previous 10 games heading into last week) and setbacks against Michigan State and Penn State. QB Brandon Peters has breathed a little life back into the offense, and Michigan's defense (No. 13 S&P+) is uniquely equipped to shut down Maryland's one-dimensional offense (the Wolverines are No. 10 in S&P+ run defense).

 

Eastern Michigan -1.5 at Central Michigan (Wednesday)

 

Straight Up: E. Michigan Eagles logo

Against the Spread:

E. Michigan Eagles logo

 

On the surface, this line look a little off. How is 3-6 Eastern Michigan favored at 5-4 Central Michigan, which is coming off an upset win at Western Michigan? 

At this point every year, we begin to incorporate two concepts into our weekly handicaps: 1.) Which teams are objectively better than their records?, and, 2.) Which teams who’ve overachieved are fighting for their postseason lives?

Eastern Michigan checks both boxes, a bowl-caliber team that must scratch and claw to make the postseason due to six—count them, six—heartbreaking losses.

Eastern Michigan has been one of the nation’s unluckiest teams. The Eagles started out 2-0, including a road win at improving Rutgers. Last week, the Eagles blew out Ball State. In between those games, EMU lost six straight games by one possession. In those six games, EMU fell an average of 3.8 ppg. 

Sure, the Eagles are 3-6. But if you went by S&P+’s Win Expectancy stat, they’re more like a 6-3 team. Because S&P+ contextualizes the series of narrow losses, it actually agrees with Vegas in installing EMU as slight favorites (-2.8). S&P+ sees EMU (No. 58) as clearly superior to CMU (No. 89).

To the great surprise of your author, EMU hasn’t gotten its ground game going (No. 129 S&P+) this year despite boasting two strong Group of 5 RB talents in Ian Eriksen and Shaq Vann. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Eagles have a strong passing game (No. 48 S&P+) and one of the Group of 5’s most underrated defenses (No. 28 S&P+).

Central Michigan can’t run the ball either, but they have a worse passing game (No. 90 S&P+) and defense (No. 55 S&P+). The Chippewas are extremely reliant on their aerial attack to mask their other weaknesses. When Shane Morris is on (like in the Kansas game), the unit can hum. 

When he’s off (11 interceptions, 55.2% completions), the offense is rudderless and the mediocre defense gets stranded on the field for long periods of time. Morris is miscast as an offensive centerpiece. We expect Eastern’s defense to expose him as such on Wednesday night.

 

Three for the road:


Georgia Tech +3 vs. Virginia Tech

Tulane -5.5 at ECU

Syracuse -1 vs. Wake Forest

 

**** 


2017 Record: Straight-Up: 91-36 (71.6%); Against the Spread: 70-52-3 (57.4%)

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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