For the 2020 season, the Free Analysis sides are just 149-166-1 (38-44 on differences of 4 points or more) while totals are 166-161-5 (19-19 on differences from the line of 6 points or more, 45-34 on differences of 5 or more).

 

2020 was the first season in which the Free Analysis sides with differences from the line of 4 points or more have not been profitable and the first season in which all Free Analysis sides will have a losing record.

 

The record on all Free Analysis sides is now 2064-1856-73 ATS since 2013, which is very good picking nearly every game over 8 years. The Free Analysis sides in which my predicted margin was 4 points or more away from the line are a profitable 688-587-27. Totals on the Free pages are now 1807-1757-31 in the 7 seasons I’ve been tracking them.

 

The spreads posted are the consensus lines at the time I posted each analysis.

College Bowl Games

Appalachian State vs
North Texas

Mon, Dec 21 11:30 AM PT

Rotation: 267, Odds: North Texas +21, Total: 67.5

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Appalachian State (-21/-21.5)  43   North Texas  20

Lean – Under (67.5)

Rotation #267 – Monday 11:30 am Pacific

The total on this game has gone up from an opening number of 65.5 points despite some factors that will likely lead to lower scoring. The most significant factor is the absence of future NFL receiver Jaelon Darden, who has opted out of playing for North Texas in this game to focus on preparing for the NFL combine. Darden was targeted 112 times and averaged 10.6 yards per target despite being the victim of frequent double-teaming. The rest of the Eagles’ wide receivers averaged a combined 8.7 despite infrequent double-teams so Darden’s impact should certainly be felt.

The other factor pointing towards a lower scoring game than expected is the absence of quarterback Austin Aune, who split time with Jason Bean. Bean is not really a downgrade on a yards per play basis, as his worse passing numbers (0.4 yards per pass play worse than the team’s overall rating) are made up for by his ability to run the ball (398 yards on 35 runs). I don’t expect 11.4 yards per run for Bean, as that average was skewed by his 180 yards on 9 runs against Middle Tennessee State, but I do expect the Mean Green to run the ball more than usual with Bean getting all the snaps and without Darden to throw too. North Texas runs their offense at one of the fastest paces in the nation but their pace is slower when Bean is in the game (about 3.5 total plays per game slower), which accounts for about -2 points towards the predicted total.

North Texas will also be running the ball more because Appalachian State doesn’t defend the run well (5.3 yards per rushing play allowed to teams that would combine to average 4.8 yprp against an average defense) while the Mountaineers are exceptionally good defending the pass (only 46.7% completions and 5.0 yards per pass play allowed with 14 interceptions). As long as North Texas is within a couple of touchdowns they should be running the ball a lot, which will slow down the pace of play even more.

Appalachian State has a run-oriented offense and the Mountaineers will be running the ball more than usual because North Texas is notoriously bad defending the run. The Mean Green have surrendered an average of 263 ground yards per game at 6.3 yards per rushing play – to mostly bad running teams that would combine to average only 4.2 yprp against an average defense. Appalachian State is happy to run the ball all afternoon, which should also slow the pace of play.

Overall, the math favors Appalachian State by 23.5 points with a total of 63.1 points even with a boost for the good weather. Huge dogs can sometimes letdown in minor bowl games so I’m not eager to play the side here. But, I will lean with the under.

Note: This will be the only bowl game that I’ll post on the Free Analysis pages. If you want bowl analysis on each game you can subscribe to the College Season package for $125.

Tulane vs
Nevada

Tue, Dec 22 12:30 PM PT

Rotation: 269, Odds: Nevada +2.5, Total: 57.5

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Lean – NEVADA (+1.5)  29   Tulane  27

Update: Tulane’s best defensive player, Patrick Johnson (10 sacks and 14.5 total tackles for loss) will not play due to the death of his father and 1st-Team All-AAC DE Cam Sample is not listed on the depth chart. NT DeAndre Williams is also going to miss the game due to the birth of his child and those significant defensive absences are worth a few points. I now favor Nevada to win.

Tulane has an advantage in the heavy winds that are expected in Boise this afternoon, as the Green Wave have a run-oriented offense while Nevada is looking to pass 65% of the time. The wind should have a significant affect on passing, which hurts the Wolf Pack more than it does Tulane, but the absences from the Green Wave defense tip the scales towards Nevada. Despite the conditions that favor Tulane, the math is now picking Nevada to win after adjusting for the weather and injuries.

Tulane’s rushing attack averaged 5.9 yards per rushing play but the Green Wave had a couple of really good games on the ground against bad run defenses (8.5 ypr against Southern Miss and ECU) that skewed their average up and only once in five games did Tulane average 5.0 yprp or more against an average of better run defense. Nevada allowed just 4.7 yprp for the season despite giving up 9.0 yprp to San Jose State, which was the only time the Wolf Pack allowed more than 5.0 yprp. Nevada’s defense matches up well against a run-heavy Tulane offense and quarterback Michael Pratt hasn’t been good enough (1.0 yards per pass play worse than average) to take full advantage of a Nevada pass defense that has been 0.9 yppp worse than average (6.1 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would combine to average only 5.2 yppp against an average defense).

Nevada’s offense is based on the arm talent of Carson Strong, who completed 69.4% of his passes with 22 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions while averaging 7.1 yards per pass play (although against teams that would allow 6.9 yppp to an average FBS quarterback). Tulane has been 0.7 yppp worse than average defending the pass and the Green Wave are fortunate to be playing this game in windy conditions that will hinder the Wolf Pack aerial attack. Tulane has a very good run defense (4.1 yprp allowed to teams that would average 4.8 yprp against an average defense) and a mediocre Nevada ground game isn’t likely to do much damage. It will up to Strong to perform in adverse conditions for Nevada to win this game.

 

UCF vs
(13) BYU

Tue, Dec 22 4:00 PM PT

Rotation: 271, Odds: BYU -6, Total: 78

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Lean – Brigham Young (-6)  47   Central Florida  37

Lean – Over (78)

Both teams should have success offensively in this game given the elite quarterbacks on each side and worse than average pass defenses.

It’s pretty obvious that BYU, with future NFL 1st-round draft pick Zach Wilson, will be able to throw the ball against UCF. Wilson has completed 73.2% of his passes and averaged a very impressive 10.1 yards per pass play despite facing a schedule of mostly solid defensive teams that would allow just 6.3 yppp to an average FBS quarterback. UCF’s aggressive style of pass defense tries to limit easy completions (only 57.8% allowed) but the Golden Knights given up too many big plays as a consequence (14.0 yards per completion allowed) and that’s going to be tragic for them against an quarterback that is very accurate throwing the ball down the field and has averaged 14.8 yards per completion, which is incredible given his 73% completion rate. UCF defends the run a bit better than average but BYU is projected to average 8.3 yards per play in this game (7.9 is their average with Wilson in the game this season) and the Cougars should easily surpass their 40.7 points per game average given the extra possessions they’ll get due to UCF’s fast tempo. BYU only runs 65.3 plays per game but the Golden Knights run their offense at a blistering pace, which will give the ball back to BYU more often. I project the Cougars with two extra possessions than they normally have and 75.6 plays from scrimmage.

BYU has only allowed 14.7 points per game but the Cougars have faced a schedule of mostly sub-par offensive teams that run their attack at an average to slow pace. BYU is only 0.1 yards per play better than average defensively (5.0 yppl allowed to teams that would average only 5.1 yppl against an average defense) and they’ve faced just 62.9 plays per game. UCF averages 85 plays per game and is projected at 79.9 plays in this game. Not only will BYU be facing more plays but UCF’s offense, which has been 1.2 yppl better than average (6.9 yppl with QB Dillon Gabriel in the game, against teams that would allow 5.7 yppl to an average team), is much better than what the Cougars have faced all season. BYU is good defending the run (0.6 yprp better than average) but UCF doesn’t mind throwing the ball if they’re having trouble running it (52 pass plays against Tulsa and 51 pass plays against Cincy) and BYU doesn’t defend the pass well, as the 5.8 yppp they’ve allowed has come against quarterbacks that would average only 5.3 yppp against an average defensive team. The Cougars only faced two better than average quarterbacks this season, against Houston and Coastal Carolina (they faced 3rd and 4th stringers against Boise), and they allowed 7.6 yppp in those two games. My math projects 8.9 yppp for Gabriel in this game and 563 total yards at 7.0 yppl. UCF averages 44.3 points per game and BYU’s defense rates about the same as the average defense that the Knights have faced this season. However, BYU’s offense runs at a slower pace than the team’s the UCF has faced so the Knights aren’t likely to reach their points per game average – although they could get close to it if they decide to throw the ball more often than they usually do.

The math is projecting a lot of points and a 10-point win for BYU.

Louisiana Tech vs
Georgia Southern

Wed, Dec 23 12:00 PM PT

Rotation: 273, Odds: Georgia Southern -7, Total: 48

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Note: Georgia Southern QB Shai Werts is probable. I’ll Lean Georgia Southern at -7 or less.

Lean – Georgia Southern (-7)  30   Louisiana Tech  20

I’ll assume that Georgia Southern will be without quarterback Shai Werts, who is doubtful but possibly could play, which means that the Eagles will need to depend on third-string signal caller Miller Mosely with #2 Justin Tomlin also out. Miller nearly blew my Best Bet win against Appalachian State with his 3 turnovers after Tomlin left the game but a 78-yard catch and run kept the Eagles close enough to cover the number in that game. Mosely only completed 6 of 15 passes against Appalachian State with two interceptions, which isn’t too terrible given that the Mountaineers only allowed 48% completions for the season. However, Mosely projects to be considerably worse than Werts passing and running the option, as Werts and Tomlin combined for 5.3 yards per run while Tomlin managed just 50 yards on 12 runs against an Appalachian defense that doesn’t defend the run well. That’s a small sample but Mosely wouldn’t be third-string if he were as good as Werts and Tomlin and the adjustment is worth about 3 ½ points in my estimation. Georgia Southern still projects to average 5.4 yards per rushing play and 6.4 yards per pass play against a sub-par Louisiana Tech defense.

Louisiana Tech has a quarterback injury too, as main QB Luke Anthony is out for this game. The Bulldogs alternated quarterbacks and Aaron Allen played in every game, although he took only about 30% of the snaps. Allen and Anthony were equally bad on a compensated yards per pass play basis, as both rated at 2.1 yppp worse than average, but Allen has been much more careless with the football and has thrown 5 interceptions on 97 pass attempts. That’s not completely random, as Allen had 21 of his 97 pass attempts defended, which would equate to 4.4 predicted interceptions. Anthony had just 20 of his 221 pass attempts defended against and had the same number of interceptions as Allen (5) while throwing 2.3 times as many passes.

Georgia Southern has an aggressive secondary that gets their hands on a lot of passes (15.3% of passes are defended, which is very high) and the Eagles registered 14 interceptions so Allen is more likely to throw 2 or more interceptions than he is of throwing 1 or fewer. Louisiana Tech has one of the worst rushing attacks in college football, as the Bulldogs averaged just 3.9 yards per rushing play against mostly bad run defenses that would allow 5.7 yprp to an average team, and they have no chance of running the ball against a stout Georgia Southern defensive front that’s yielded just 4.1 yprp this season (to teams that would average 4.8 yprp). That should result in a lot of passing by Allen, which is why he has a good chance of throwing multiple picks in this game. Overall, the math projects only 304 yards at 4.6 yards per play for Louisiana Tech despite playing this game in perfect dome conditions.

Georgia Southern would be a good play laying 7 or less if Werts is healthy enough to play and the math still leans a bit with the Eagles even though the dome helps Louisiana Tech more than it does the run-heavy Eagles. However, I have no opinion on this game unless Werts can play, in which case I’d lean with Georgia Southern at -7 or less.

Memphis vs
Florida Atl.

Wed, Dec 23 4:00 PM PT

Rotation: 275, Odds: Florida Atl. +8.5, Total: 52.5

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Memphis (-8.5)  30   Florida Atlantic  19

Florida Atlantic had allowed just 4.5 yards per play and 12.4 points per game (to teams that would combine to average 4.9 yppl to an average FBS defense) before mysteriously giving up 45 points and 8.0 yppl to a sub-par Southern Miss offense with a third-string quarterback that had previously been dreadfully bad. Coach Willie Taggart says it was the worst tackling from his team all season, which is something that can be remedied. FAU now has an average FBS defense, which is good for a CUSA team, and Memphis has an average FBS offense (6.1 yppl against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average team). Memphis has the same quarterback in Brady White that lit it up the last two seasons but the receiving corps isn’t as good and the Tigers couldn’t replace RB Kenny Gainwell, who ran for 1459 yards at 6.3 ypr last season but opted not to play this season (Memphis is 0.6 yprp worse than average running the ball this season). The Tigers are projected to gain 417 yards on 5.7 yards per play in this game.

Projecting FAU’s offense is a bit trickier, as the Owls are much better offensively with Javion Posey at quarterback instead of Nick Tronti, who oddly started the final game of the season despite being much worse than Posey. Tronti was the undisputed starter at the beginning of the season but Posey starting getting snaps in week 10 against Western Kentucky and started the next 3 games. After scoring 62 points in two games in Posey’s first two starts (after just 64 total points in the first 4 games with Tronti at quarterback) the Owls managed just 3 points against a Georgia Southern defense that is really good defending the run. Posey still averaged 7.2 yards per play in that game (107 yards on 15 pass plays and 59 yards on 8 runs) while Tronti managed just 6.1 yards per play after taking over, but coach Taggart decided to start Tronti against Southern Miss with Posey barely playing (1 pass and 2 runs). Taggart is a horrible coach that always makes the wrong decision so I’m guessing that Tronti will start despite averaging just 4.5 yards on 192 quarterback plays (running and passing) while Posey averaged 6.8 yards on 116 quarterback plays, including 443 yards on 50 runs. Although, I would expect Posey to play.

I decided to use Florida Atlantic’s season numbers rather than guessing how many snaps each quarterback will get, and the owls are projected to gain just 292 yards at 4.1 yppl with star RB Malcolm Davidson not playing Davidson averaged 7.1 yards on 42 runs while also hauling in 6 of the 8 passes thrown to him for 96 yards. BJ Emmons is also out, but that’s a positive given his 3.1 ypr average (today’s main back James Charles averages 4.6 ypr). FAU won’t be able to take advantage of Memphis’ sub-par pass defense (0.4 yppp worse than average) and the Owls won’t be able to run against a solid Tigers’ defensive front (0.3 yprp better than average) unless Posey is in the game. Posey’s compensated passing numbers are also better than Tronti’s passing numbers (although with a higher projected interception rate) so there would be no question who the quarterback should be in this game if I were coaching.

The math favors Memphis by 14 points in this game using Florida Atlantic’s season offensive numbers, adjusted for the missing running backs, but only favors the Tigers by 9 points if Posey plays the entire game for FAU, which is unlikely given Taggart’s decision-making history. The value is clearly on Memphis is this game but the Owls apply to a number of good Bowl situations (including a 35-3-2 ATS situation) while Memphis applies to a negative 13-47-2 ATS big bowl favorite situation. I’ll pass.

Hawaii vs
Houston

Thu, Dec 24 12:30 PM PT

Rotation: 277, Odds: Houston -7, Total: 60.5

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Houston (-7) 32  Hawaii  25

As of now my math favors Houston by 11 points after adjusting for 3 key Cougars opting out to pursue their potential NFL careers. Receiver Marquez Stevenson is third on the team in receptions but he his 11.0 yards per target is significantly better than the 7.5 YPT average of the other wide receivers and he’s worth about a point to the offense (and also has a TD on a kick return this season). Star DE Payton Turner is out after leading the team in sacks (5) and total tackles for loss (10.5) despite playing in only 5 of the Cougars’ 7 games this season. And SS Grant Stuard is also not going to play and his 61 tackles are more than twice as much as the #2 tackler on the team. I calculate Turner and Stuard to be worth 2.3 points with Turner being most of that adjustment. The Cougars averaged only 2 sacks in the two games that Turner has missed (3.6 sacks per game with him) and allowed 7.1 yards per rushing play in those two games.

In addition to the 3 potential NFL players that have opted-out, the Cougars will also have 15 to 20 players ineligible to play due mostly to academic issues according to head coach Dana Holgorsen. The list of those players is not available but should become apparent after the Cougars take the field for warmups. I’ll monitor the internet to see if any other significant players are out and will have a predicted score once that information becomes available.

Note: Still no word on what other Houston players might be out today but the game is approaching. The model favors Houston by 11 with a total of 58 points with no additional key absences for Houston and it’s unlikely that any missing players would add up to 4 points, so I’m guessing the math will end up favoring Houston by more than the current line of 7 points. However, Houston applies to a 9-35 ATS bowl favorite situation and Hawaii is reportedly very excited about playing in this bowl game. I think it’s best to pass.

Marshall vs
Buffalo

Fri, Dec 25 11:30 AM PT

Rotation: 279, Odds: Buffalo -4.5, Total: 54.5

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Buffalo (-4.5)  30   Marshall  26

This game may be decided by the battle between Buffalo’s exceptional rushing attack against Marshall’s excellent run defense, although Buffalo quarterback Kyle Vantrease is more than capable of carrying the Bulls’ offense if called upon to do so. I’m sure you’ve heard about how prolific Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson has been, as he’s rushed for 1072 yards at 7.6 ypr in just 6 games, but backup Kevin Marks has been just as efficient with 603 yards at 7.8 ypr. Buffalo averaged over 300 rushing yards as a team and was 1.3 yards per rushing play better than average (7.2 yprp against teams that would allow 5.9 yprp to an average team). However, the Bulls took advantage of 3 really bad run defenses by averaging 435 rushing yards at 8.8 yprp against Bowling Green, Kent State and Akron, who all rank among the 12 worst run defenses in the nation based on compensated yprp allowed. In their other 3 games against Northern Illinois, Miami-Ohio, and Ball State the Bulls averaged only 5.1 yprp, which is not much more than the 5.0 yprp that an average FBS team would gain against that trio of defenses.

Marshall has a very good run defense that yielded just 3.6 yprp to teams that would combine to average 4.3 yprp against an average defensive team. The Thundering Herd run defense won’t be quite as good without LB Tavante Beckett, who averaged 10 tackles per game and was named the CUSA Defensive Player of the Year but has decided to forego the Bowl game to pursue a pro career.

All is not lost for Buffalo if Marshall neutralizes their run game as the 3 decent run defenses the Bulls faced did, as quarterback Kyle Vantrease averaged 9.7 yards per pass play in the 3 games that Bulls didn’t dominate with their ground assault, and I project Vantrease to average 8.1 yppp against a mediocre Marshall pass defense (their 5.2 yppp allowed was mostly against horrible quarterbacks that would combine to average only 5.1 yppp against an average defensive team). Buffalo also threw the ball more often in the 3 games in which they didn’t dominate with their rushing attack, which is a reason that they managed to average 7.0 yards per play or more in all 6 of their games. I doubt they’ll be able to be that efficient against Marshall’s tough defense (even without Beckett) and I project the Bulls at 6.3 yppl in this game.

Marshall’s offense was consistently good for most of the season but the Herd came out of a 3 week layoff and were shutout by Rice and then managed just 5.2 yppl and 13 points against UAB two weeks later in a CUSA Championship game loss. For the season Marshall was 0.4 yppl worse than average offensively (6.1 yppl against teams that would allow 6.5 yppl to an average team) while Buffalo has been 0.5 yppl worse than average defensively (5.5 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.0 yppl against an average defense, adjusted for facing Miami-Ohio’s horrible backup QB). Marshall’s lead running back Brandon Knox left the team to pursue an NFL career that will never happen, as he’s a worse than average running back that managed just 4.8 ypr despite facing teams that would allow 6.0 ypr to an average FBS running back. Instead of using this game to impress NFL scouts he’s let his insufficient regular season numbers make his case, which won’t be good enough in my opinion. What are some of these kids thinking? Anyway, not having Knox is not a significant loss and Marshall is projected to average a decent 5.7 yppl in this game

The projected total yards are pretty even but Buffalo projects to have about a 2-point edge in projected turnovers and overall the math favors the Bulls by 5 points. I shaded that down a bit because bowl favorites that lost their conference championship game by more than 7 points are just 3-20 ATS over the years.

I have no interest in the side or the total in this game.

South Carolina @
UAB

Sat, Dec 26 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 281, Odds: UAB PK, Total:

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This game has been cancelled.

(16) UL Lafayette vs
UTSA

Sat, Dec 26 12:30 PM PT

Rotation: 285, Odds: UTSA +13.5, Total: 55.5

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Louisiana-Lafayette (-14)  33   Texas-San Antonio  19

Louisiana-Lafayette’s only loss was by just 3 points against unbeaten Coastal Carolina and the Rain’ Cajuns should win this game by more than two touchdowns if they are properly focused in preparation to play a much weaker team. My math model favors Louisiana-Lafayette by 17.6 points but they apply to a very negative 8-58-2 ATS bowl letdown situation.

ULL’s balanced attack averages well over 200 yards both rushing and passing that unit (0.6 yppl better than average) should move the ball easily against a UTSA defense than has been 0.5 yppl worse than average this season (5.7 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average only 5.2 yppl against an average defense).

Louisiana’s advantage is even greater when the Roadrunners have the ball, as UTSA has been 0.6 yppl worse than average with quarterback Frank Harris at quarterback despite two recent offensive outbursts against horrible defensive teams UTEP and North Texas (over 1200 combined yards at 8.8 yppl in those two games). UTSA hasn’t faced a defense close to as good as the ULL stop unit that yielded just 4.7 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yppl against an average defense but the Roadrunners only averaged 4.8 yppl and 13 points against UAB, BYU, Army, and Florida Atlantic – the 4 mediocre defenses they faced (they didn’t face a good defense).

ULL should dominate if they are have enough respect for their opponent to prepare properly but this game has letdown written all over it. I’ll pass.

Western Kentucky vs
Georgia St.

Sat, Dec 26 12:30 PM PT

Rotation: 287, Odds: Georgia St. -3.5, Total: 50

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Georgia State (-3.5)  26   Western Kentucky  21

This game comes down to how many points Western Kentucky’s feeble offense can score against a decent Georgia State defense. The Hilltoppers have a good defense that’s allowed just 25.5 points per game and rated at 0.3 yards per play better than average (5.3 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average team) and that unit should limit a sub-par Georgia State attack that’s averaged 5.7 yppl this season against teams that would combine to allow 6.1 yppl to an average team.

The issue with Western Kentucky is once again their horrible offense. The coaching staff brought in former Maryland quarterback Ty Pigrome to try to spruce things up but the Hilltoppers’ receivers can’t get open down the field (just 9.2 yards per completion is among the worst in the nation) and Pigrome has averaged only 4.6 yards per pass play despite facing teams that would allow 7.2 yppp to an average quarterback. Pigrome obviously doesn’t force the ball down the field and he takes off running when nobody is open underneath (413 rush yards at 5.7 yards a pop). That has resulted in zero interceptions thrown by Pigrome this season. Overall, Western Kentucky has been 1.6 yards per play worse than average offensively this season (4.7 yppl against teams that would allow 6.3 yppl) and Georgia State’s defense has been pretty solid this season in allowing 5.7 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average defensive team.

Overall, my math favors Georgia State by 5 points in what could be a lower scoring game than I project and CUSA teams (Western Kentucky’s conference) have yet to win or cover the spread in 4 bowl games while Sun Belt teams have two blowout wins to their credit (Appalachian State by 28 points and Georgia Southern by 35 points – both against CUSA teams).