College Bowl Games
Fri, Dec 16 8:30 AM PT
Rotation: 201, Odds: UAB -10.5, Total: 45
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Alabama-Birmingham (-10.5) 29 Miami-Ohio 18
Miami-Ohio managed to go 6-6 despite not having starting quarterback Brett Gabbert for 8 of 12 games because the Redhawks had a stingy defense that allowed just 22.5 points per game on 5.4 yards per play. Miami’s offense averaged just 19.3 points against FBS competition and backup quarterback Aveon Smith’s only positive attribute is his ability to run (624 yards on 82 runs). The Redhawks’ offense is terrible (1.0 yppl worse than average) and the defense has been significantly affected by attrition in the secondary.
With Miami’s top cornerback John Saunders (12 passes defended) deciding to transfer, the Redhawks are now without 3 opening week starters in the secondary, as safety Eli Blakey has injured after 5 starts (7 passes defended) while the other starting CB Yahsyn McKee (8 PDs in 8 games) has missed the last 3 games and is not on the depth chart for this game. Miami’s defense was significantly worse those last 3 games after McKee’s injury and losing Saunders makes it worse. My algorithm projects that Miami’s defense will be 0.4 yards per play worse than their season rating of 0.4 yppl worse than average, which is worth 2.5 points based on UAB’s 63 projected plays and run-pass ratio. That is basically the difference between my projection and the market line on this game.
UAB is expected to play hard for their well-liked interim coach and the Blazers’ offense, which is 0.7 yppl better than average with quarterback Dylan Hopkins behind center. However, it was revealed on Thursday that star running back DeWayne McBride would not play in this game, which is a significant development. McBride ran for 1713 yards at a very impressive 7.4 ypr while his backups combined for 5.7 ypr, which works out to a difference of 2.7 points. UAB is now projected to gain 428 yards at 6.8 yppl in this game while the Blazers’ defense (0.1 yppl better than average) should limit Miami’s attack, although their leaky run defense could be an issue if Smith runs more than he normally does. I project 5.5 yards per rushing play for the Redhawks but just 274 yards at 4.7 yppl overall.
Fri, Dec 16 12:00 PM PT
Rotation: 203, Odds: Troy +3, Total: 56
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Note: The line was Troy -1.5 when I posted the analysis and now UTSA is favored by 3 points. Still no play, as I have the Roadrunners by 2 points.
Texas-San Antonio (+1.5) 28 Troy 26
I pegged Troy as an underrated team heading into the season and easily won my season win total on the Trojans’ over 6 wins, as they’ve lost just 2 games with one of them being on a Hail Mary pass on the final play to Appalachian State (the other loss was to Ole Miss). Troy is also 10-3 ATS and is riding a 3 game spread win streak. However, teams entering their bowl game on a 3-games or more spread win streak are just 100-149-3 ATS (if not facing another such team) and my math picks this game even.
Troy’s offense has been 0.2 yards per play worse than average this season but they’ve been consistently worse than that since losing receivers Barber and Rogers in the middle of the season and I rate the Trojans’ attack at 0.4 yppl worse than average heading into this game. Troy should move the ball at a decent clip against an UTSA defense that’s been 0.5 yppl worse than average when accounting for the horrible backup quarterbacks that they faced in 3 of their final 5 games (UAB, Louisiana Tech and Rice).
Troy’s strength is a defense that’s yielded just 17.5 points per game and 4.7 yppl (to teams that would combine to average 5.4 yppl against an average FBS defense). That unit has a slight edge over a UTSA attack that’s been 0.6 yppl better than average over the course of the season and which I rate at 0.5 yppl better than average without injured WR De’Corian Clark, who led the team with 9.9 yards per target. Quarterback Frank Harris can beat you with his legs and his arm and he doesn’t make many mistakes (just 7 interceptions on 452 pass plays).
Troy is projected to outgain UTSA in this game but the Roadrunners have better special teams and a 1.2 points edge in projected turnovers. My math favors Troy by just 0.2 points and the Trojans apply to a 29-85-1 ATS subset of that bowl team off 3 or more spread wins angle.
Sat, Dec 17 8:00 AM PT
Rotation: 205, Odds: Louisville -2, Total: 40
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Lean – Under (40) – Louisville (-2) 18 Cincinnati 17
Both teams are missing all the key components of their coaching staffs along with numerous key players. I have algorithms that help me adjust for players being out and I’ll assume the issues regarding the coaching is the same on both sides.
Louisville is missing dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham, top receiver Tyler Hudson (9.9 yards per target and 56% success rate), RB Tiyon Evans (525 yards at 6.3 ypr) and top CB Kei’Trel Clark.
Cincinnati will be without their top 4 wide receivers and their top 2 tight ends, who collectively accounted for 90% of the team’s receiving yards. Quarterback Ben Bryant is still out with an injury and backup Evan Prator, while a good runner, had terrible passing numbers even with a full receiving corps the last two games. Kicker Ryan Coe has entered the transfer portal and his +0.5 points per game in field goal value and about a point per game in kickoff value will be missed. On the defense, CB Ja’Quan Sheppard, who leads the Bearcats in passes defended, has also transferred out. Cincy will have 1st-Team All-American LB Ivan Pace, who says he’s excited to be playing one more game before moving onto the NFL.
The numerous defections hurt the offenses much more than the defenses and the projected cold temperature with 18 mph winds (with gusts into the high 20s) and 35% chance of rain doesn’t bode well for the offenses either. That weather doesn’t hurt Cincinnati as much, as the Bearcats figure to be running the ball a lot with their decimated receiving corps and a running quarterback going up against a Louisville defense that was good defending the pass but just mediocre against the run. The Bearcats still figure to have a good defense with Pace playing and just one defection among the starters, as that unit was 1.0 yppl better than average this season.
My math favors Louisville by just 0.5 points and only 35.5 total points after accounting for current personnel and the bad weather. I’ll lean Under 40 points or more.
Sat, Dec 17 11:30 AM PT
Rotation: 215, Odds: Oregon St. -10, Total: 53
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Lean – Florida (+9) 24 Oregon State 28
It appears as if there has been an overreaction on the market to the players that will be missing from Florida’s team for this game, and I’d prefer the underdog.
Florida will be without dual-threat quarterback Anthony Richardson, who was actually more of a one-threat quarterback given his poor 53.8% completion percentage. What made Richardson dangerous was his running (722 yards on 89 runs) and the threat of his running made it easier to find speedy receivers down the field for big plays, which led to an average of 14.5 yards per completion and an overall average of 7.8 yards per attempt and 7.2 yards per pass play, which was good considering he faced teams that would allow 6.0 yppp to an average quarterback.
Bowl game starter Jack Miller is a former 4-Star recruit that battled CJ Stroud for the starting job before last season before transferring to Florida. Miller is undoubtedly a better passer, but he’ll be without some big play receivers, and he won’t have the benefit of teams keeping an extra defender near the line of scrimmage to defend against the quarterback run. I’ll assume that overall Miller would have produced the same overall numbers in the passing game (more completions but less yards per completion) and I’ll adjust for the absence of receivers Justin Shorter, Daejon Reynolds and Trent Whittemore, who combined for 908 yards on 77 targets (11.8 YPT). The remaining wide receivers combined for a more modest 8.7 YPT, which is a significant downgrade. TE Deon Zipperer (8.4 YPT on 21 targets) is still out with injury and his backups combined to average just 3.4 YPT on 35 targets. Overall, the receiver adjustment works out to 1.0 yards per pass play, and I also made an adjustment for the absence of an All-American lineman. I still rate Florida’s pass attack at 0.2 yards per pass play better than average for this game (instead of +1.4 yppp), and I wouldn’t be surprised if Miller played better than I project, as I believe I’m being conservative in thinking his overall passing wouldn’t be better than Richardson.
Oregon State has a very good pass defense (5.7 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would combine to average 7.0 yppp against an average defensive team), although the Beavers will be without top CB Rejzohn Wright (worth about 0.3 yppp), who has opted out of this game. I project just 5.6 yppp for the Gators in this game.
Florida can still run the ball effectively without Richardson, as Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne have combined for 1532 yards at 6.0 yards per run. That average will probably go down some without the threat of Richardson keeping the ball in the read-option, and without All-American G O’Cyrus Torrence, but I still expect the Gators to run the ball at a decent clip. I project 5.4 yards per rushing play against an Oregon State defense that was 0.5 yprp better than average defensively this season.
Oregon State’s offense rates at just 0.2 yppl better than average with Ben Gubranson at quarterback over the final 7-plus games of the regular season and I project the Beavers to gain 396 yards at 6.0 yppl against a Florida defense that is still likely to be better than average even without NFL-bound LB Ventrell Miller, whose numbers aren’t particularly overwhelming (0 sacks and 8.5 TFL). Florida’s defense was 0.4 yppl better than average for the season and they were 0.4 yppl better than average in week 3 against USF when Miller was out. Also, the defense performed better over the final 4 games with Powell-Ryland taking the starting spot of dismissed LB Brenton Cox, as Powell-Ryland had 3 sacks and 2 additional tackles for loss in those 4 games while Cox had just 2 sacks and 6 other TFL’s in 8 starts. I did adjust a bit overall for Miller being out but I still rate the Gators’ defense at 0.3 yppl better than average heading into this game.
I did dock Florida a point for special teams given all the depth that they lost in the transfer portal, as many of those guys were on the special teams units (while barely playing otherwise). Overall, the math favors Oregon State by just 4.6 points with 52.2 total points after all of the player adjustments and adjusting for the perfect scoring conditiions in Vegas on Saturday. Oregon State also applies to a negative 30-67 ATS bowl situation that is based on their good spread record and Pac-12 teams are just 8-28 ATS in bowl game the last 6 years. I’ll lean with Florida at +7.5 or more.
Sat, Dec 17 12:30 PM PT
Rotation: 211, Odds: Fresno St. -3, Total: 55
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Lean – Under (55) – Fresno State (-3 -115) 28 Washington State 23
The math would have favored Washington State by 2 points before adjusting for current personnel, but Washington State has suffered some key losses while Fresno gets a boost on offense with Jake Haener back the last 6 games after missing 4 ½ games, and the Bulldogs’ defense is better with changes to their starting lineup.
Fresno State lost to top-20 teams Oregon State and USC early in the season and then lost the two games after that without Haener before regrouping and winning 9 straight games, including the Mountain West Conference championship game against Boise State. Haener’s return sparked the offense, which was below average with backup Logan Fife at quarterback but rates at 0.2 yards per play better than average with Haener at the controls.
Washington State’s defense was 0.3 yppl better than average over the course of the season despite having two horrendous games against elite offensive teams Oregon and Washington (95 points and 9.4 yppl allowed). The Cougars were 0.5 yppl better than average after adjusting for outliers but that unit will be worse without 1st-Team All-Pac 12 LB Daiyan Henley, who has decided to not risk injury before heading to the NFL (although he will be with the team as a sort of assistant linebackers coach). After all the player adjustments and adjusting for playing in perfect dome conditions I project Fresno State with 390 total yards at 5.8 yppl.
Washington State’s offense struggled down the stretch with star WR Renard Bell playing just one full game out of the last 7 games. Bell is still out with injury and #1 and #3 pass catchers Stribling and Ollie have transferred out. I now rate Washington State’s pass offense at 1.1 yards per pass play worse than average and the Cougars are 0.4 yppl worse than average offensively overall heading into this game.
Fresno State also improved defensively down the stretch after CB Cameron Lockridge joined the starting lineup and CB Carlton Johnson began playing more after not playing at all the first 8 weeks of the season. Over the last 5 games Lockridge has had 4 interceptions and 9 total passes defended while Johnson has defended 6 passes in those 5 games despite only starting in the last two. Fresno is a bit worse than average defending the run but it’s more important to be able to defend the pass against the Washington State offense and Fresno’s pass defense is 0.7 yards per pass play better than average over the last 5 games with their new secondary, including giving up just 16 points and 4.6 yppp to a better than average Boise State offense. I project 361 total yards at 5.3 yppl for Washington State in this game.
The math favors Fresno by 4.5 points with a total of just 51 points even with the adjustment for playing this game in a domed stadium. I’ll lean Under 55 points or more.
Sat, Dec 17 2:45 PM PT
Rotation: 213, Odds: Southern Miss -6.5, Total: 45.5
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Southern Miss (-6.5) 25 Rice 21
Southern Miss earned their way into this bowl game by winning their final regular season game to get to 6-6 and the Eagles were 9-3 ATS this season with 3 straight spread wins to close the regular season. Rice, meanwhile, lost their final 3 games to finish at 5-7 but were rewarded a bowl game based on a high academic score to fill the final bowl spot.
The Owls are down to their #4 quarterback after #3 QB Shawqi Itraish proved to be a disaster filling in for injured starter TJ McMahon (opening day starter Wiley Green is also out). AJ Padgett is getting first-team reps in practice and is the presumed starter here and he averaged 9.0 yards per pass play in his lone start against North Texas. However, Padgett completed just 20 of 40 passes in his two appearances and he’s not likely to continue averaging 17 yards per completion. After adjusting for his variance in yards per completion I rate Padgett as a 0.7 yppp downgrade from McMahon and McMahon’s running 306 yard on 40 scrambles is made up for by the absence of RB Ari Broussard, who averaged a paltry 2.8 yards on his 91 runs and has been replaced by Montgomery and Otoviano, who have combined for over 889 yards and averaged 5.6 ypr in non-garbage time against FBS opponents. Rice was 0.6 yards per play worse than average for the season and I rate that unit at -0.8 yppl coming into this game with Padgett at quarterback (with some upward potential). The Southern Miss defense has been 0.3 yppl worse than average this season and I project Rice at 340 yards and 5.1 yppl in this game (even with some chance for rain in Mobile).
The Southern Miss offense was 0.8 yppl worse than average over the course of the season (5.1 yppl against teams that would allow 5.9 yppl to an average team) and the Eagles scored 20 points or fewer in 7 of their 11 games against FBS teams while topping 27 points just once. The pass attack is downgraded a bit with Trey Lowe at quarterback the last 3.5 games, even with a boost from RB Frank Gore throwing 1 or 2 passes per game lately (he’s averaged 14.3 yards on his 12 passes from the wildcat formation). However, the rushing attack is upgraded with Gore (4.9 ypr vs FBS teams) running the ball more often and taking carries away from his far less productive backups. I rate the Eagles the same heading into this game as their season rating on offense.
Rice has had some injuries to their secondary but the young cornerbacks filling in for starter Sean Fresch (6 passes defended in 9 games) have defended 4 passes in 3 games and the Owls’ defense doesn’t appear to be any worse off than they’ve been this season, which is 0.6 yppl worse than average. Southern Miss is projected to gain 329 yards at 5.7 yppl.
The projected total yards are pretty even in this game but Southern Miss has a solid edge in special teams and in projected turnovers and my math favors the Eagles by 4.7 points (and 45.3 total points with -0.4 for projected weather included). Rice enters this game off 3 losses but that has not been a negative historically in bowl games (30-21 ATS) while teams entering their bowl game on a 3-games or more spread win streak (Southern Miss) are just 100-149-3 ATS (if not facing another such team).
Sat, Dec 17 4:30 PM PT
Rotation: 209, Odds: BYU +4, Total: 64
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Lean – Over (64) – Southern Methodist (-4) 36 Brigham Young 32
It appears that BYU’s star quarterback Jaren Hall will be out, and top receiver Puka Nacua may join him on the sideline. SMU, meanwhile, will be without leading receiver Rashee Rice but replacing Rice is not the biggest issue, as his 8.6 yards per target (on 158 targets) and 48% success rate is below average for this team. The real loss for the Mustangs is the absence of explosive receivers Dylan Goffney and Jake Bailey, who have combined for 574 yards at an incredible 15.9 yards per target with a 74% success rate.
SMU’s offense probably won’t be as good as it’s been throughout the season, but I still rate the Mustangs’ attack at 0.2 yards per play better than average without the receivers and NFL caliber OL Jaylon Thomas and that’s more than good enough to take advantage of a sub-par BYU defense (6.0 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yppl to an average team) that has struggled even more down the stretch without two starting linebackers (Wilgar and Tooley) and their best linebacker, and leading tackler, Keenan Pili has opted out of this game. I project SMU’s up tempo attack to rack up 504 yards at 6.6 yards per play in this game.
BYU should be able to keep up even with third-string quarterback Cade Fennegan at the controls with Hall unlikely to play and backup Conover transferring. Fennegan had one start two seasons ago for Boise State against #9 BYU and performed at a respectable level (6.4 yards per pass play). Even with some improvement expected in the two years since then I still rate Fennegan as an average FBS quarterback, which is 1.1 yppp worse than Hall and with more interceptions expected. What BYU will be able to do is run the ball, as Christopher Brooks (729 yards at 6.6 ypr) is healthy again and ready to be the workhorse against a soft SMU defensive front that’s allowed 224 rushing yards at 5.9 yards per rushing play this season (against teams that would average 5.1 yprp against an average defense). SMU is not good defending the pass (0.1 yppp worse than average) but the Cougars will likely run the ball a lot in this game to take pressure off the backup QB. That strategy should work, as I project BYU to average 6.3 yprp in this game (and Fennegan to average 6.7 yppp) and for the Cougars to gain 456 yards at 6.5 yppl.
The total on this game opened at 74 points and has come down 10 points despite good weather expected in Albuquerque (just 4 mph wins). My math model has projected 73 total points prior to the adjustments, and I project 68.2 points after all of the adjustments (and adjusting for weather) even with BYU expected to play at a slower pace with more run plays likely. I don’t see any value on the side, as I favor SMU by 4.3 points. I’ll lean Over 64.5 points or less.
Sat, Dec 17 6:15 PM PT
Rotation: 217, Odds: Boise St. -10.5, Total: 59.5
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Strong Opinion – Over (60) – Boise State (-10.5) 40 North Texas 27
A compensated points model would project 59.0 points in this game and my math model projects 60.2 total points before adjustments to the model are made for current personnel. The total appears to be based on the play of these teams over the course of the season, but Boise State’s offense is better than their season numbers and North Texas is likely to throw the ball more than they normally do in this game, which should also increase scoring.
Boise State struggled to move the ball early in the season with Hank Bachmeier at quarterback, as he averaged just 4.6 yards per pass play in 4 games (against teams that would allow 7.5 yppp to an average quarterback. After scoring just 10 points in an upset loss to UTEP a change was made at quarterback and the offensive coordinator was changed. Those changes have produced good results, as quarterback Taylen Green not only improved the pass game (he’s been 0.6 yppp better than average) but he’s also added a running element to the offense with his 501 yards on 61 runs. In Green’s 9 starts the Broncos’ offense has been 0.5 yards per play better than average (6.5 yppl against teams that would allow 6.0 yppl), which is significantly better than their -0.1 yppl rating for all games (that’s how much the -1.7 yppl rating of their first 4 games dragged down their season average).
The North Texas defense has allowed an average of 31.5 points on 463 yards per game at 6.1 yppl while facing teams that would average 5.6 yppl against an average defensive team. That’s 0.3 yppl worse than the average defense that Green faced in his 9 starts and Boise State should have a couple of possessions more than usual given the fast pace the North Texas runs their offense at (they allow 75.4 plays per game, excluding kneel downs and spikes). North Texas faced 7 average or better offensive teams this season (SMU, Memphis, Louisiana Tech with McNeil at QB, UTSA twice, Western Kentucky, and UAB) and the Mean Green gave up 40 points or more in 4 of those games and an average of 36 points. Boise State’s offense rates the same as the average of those teams and the Broncos have a good chance of getting to 40 points in this game with the calm weather conditions.
North Texas got to the CUSA Championship game and this bowl game because of their offense, which has averaged 33.9 points and has been 0.5 yppl better than average despite many games in which they ran the ball a lot rather than needing Austin Aune’s passing, which is the strength of the offense (8.2 yppp against teams that would allow 7.1 yppp to an average QB). North Texas ran the ball 54% of the time because they faced a lot of teams that were terrible defending the run and didn’t need to throw the ball to beat those teams. However, in the 7 games that they didn’t win by 17 points or more (6 losses and a close game against Rice), the Eagles ran the ball just 46% of the time and I project just 45% run plays in this game against a Boise defense that is good defending the run (0.6 yprp better than average) and just average against the pass (their 5.4 yppp allowed was against quarterbacks that would combine to average just 5.4 yppp against an average FBS defense). Throwing the ball 54% of the time instead of running the ball 54% of the time makes the North Texas offense 0.21 yppp better, which equates to 1.4 points.
Boise only faced 3 better than average quarterbacks the entire season and the Broncos gave up an average of 8.3 yppp to Oregon State’s Chance Nolan, BYU’s Jaren Hall, and Fresno’s Jake Haener. I project just 4.4 yprp for North Texas but for Aune to average 7.6 yppp. Overall, the math projects 385 yards at 6.2 yppl for the Mean Green in this game, which equates to 27 points even with Aune more likely to throw more than 1 interception than he is to throw 1 or fewer picks (1.35 projected).
It’s going to be cold on Saturday night in Frisco Texas (38 degrees) but it will be calm with no precipitation – and no wind will allow both teams to throw the ball accurately (cold temperatures actually lead to relatively higher scoring than warm weather games with all else being equal). My math model liked the over before adjusting 2.2 points upwards based on the projected weather.
The Over is a Strong Opinion at 61 points or less.
Mon, Dec 19 11:30 AM PT
Rotation: 219, Odds: Connecticut +10.5, Total: 40.5
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Lean – Marshall (-10.5) 28 Connecticut 13
Connecticut is the 117th best team in the nation yet the Huskies managed to win 6 games despite being outscored by 6.3 points per game, outgained by 88 yards per contest and by 0.7 yppl by a schedule of opponents that collectively are 1.0 yards per play and 8.1 points per game worse than an average FCS teams. The Huskies managed to beat two bowl teams, Fresno State with their backup QB and Liberty, but they were about 9 points worse than average in those seemingly impressive wins.
Connecticut is 1.0 yards per play worse than average on offense (5.0 yppl against teams that would allow 6.0 yppl to an average team) and the Huskies scored an average of 8 points in 3 games against good defensive teams Syracuse (14 points), Michigan (0 points) and NC State (10 poitns) and the Huskies are projected to score just 13 points against a very good Marshall defense that allowed just 17.4 points per game and 4.7 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an averaged defensive team. Gardner Webb is the only team that Marshall faced that is close to as bad offensively as UConn is and they held Gardner Webb to 7 points.
The Huskies’ offense is predicated on running the ball, as they average over 200 yards rushing per game at 5.4 yards per rushing play (against teams that would allow 5.4 yprp) but Marshall is extremely tough to run the ball against as only Troy and Georgia Southern averaged more than 4.1 yprp against the Thundering Herd defense this season (and Troy managed just 4.7 yprp). Connecticut only faced two good run defenses (Michigan and NC State) and the Huskies managed just 3.3 yprp in those games, which is 0.7 yprp worse than an average team would have run for against the Wolverines and Wolfpack. If Connecticut can’t run the ball then they have no chance with an aerial attack that managed just 4.4 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 6.8 yppp to an average quarterback. Marshall is 1.1 yppp better than average and held Gardner Webb, the only offense they faced that is close to as bad throwing the ball (GW is 1.0 yppp better than UConn) to just 2.5 yppp. Connecticut averaged just 1.2 yppp in two games against elite pass defenses and are projected to average only 3.4 yppp in this game while managing only 4.4 yprp.
Marshall’s offense, which is 0.7 yppl worse than average, is projected to gain 432 yards at 6.0 yppl against a UConn defense that has been 0.8 yppl worse than average this season. The projected stats would predict 31 points for Marshall in this game but the Thundering Herd averaged only 21.4 points per game on their 388 total yards per game, which is well below expectations due to their inability to score in the red zone. Marshall managed to average only 3.95 points per red zone opportunity in their 11 games against FBS teams, which is well below the 4.7 PPRZ expected based on their overall offensive numbers. If they continue to struggle converting red zone opportunities into points then their projected yardage would equate to 26.3 points for the Herd in this game, which is still likely to cover the number.
Double-digit underdogs generally perform well in bowl games (89-62-2) but the Huskies don’t apply to any of the big bowl dog angles that I have and the math likes Marshall.
San Jose St.
Tue, Dec 20 12:30 PM PT
Rotation: 221, Odds: San Jose St. -4, Total: 53
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Lean – Eastern Michigan (+4) 26 San Jose State 25
San Jose State has dropped 6 consecutive games to the number, after covering 4 straight early in the season, and my math model has at least leaned against them in 5 of those 6 games. Such is the case again, as the math leans with an Eastern Michigan team that consistently overachieves under coach Chris Creighton. I made the mistake of playing Eastern Michigan under as one of my 11 season win total Best Bets this season and the Eagles managed to win 8 games despite not being a good team (11.8 points worse than average from the line of scrimmage). Creighton’s team continued to rise up as underdogs, going 5-1 ATS when getting points while winning 4 of those 6 games straight up – including a win as a 20.5-point dog at Arizona State. Eastern Michigan is now on a 31-9-2 ATS run as an underdog of 2 points or more and my math model likes them in this game – although not quite enough to make them a Best Bet or Strong Opinion.
The Eastern Michigan offense is not as good as the 28.8 points per game they scored, as the Eagles managed just 5.3 yards per play (against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average team). Playing quarterback Taylor Powell instead of Austin Smith (both played a lot this season) is only a slight upgrade, as Powell’s better passing numbers are offset by the rushing numbers not being as good without Smith’s contributions (313 yards on 50 runs). Having Powell at quarterback does help against a San Jose State defense that is very tough to run against (0.4 yprp better than average) but has been 0.6 yppp worse than average against the pass, which the Eagles do more of when Powell is behind center. Overall, the San Jose State defense allowed just 20.3 points per game and rates as average on a national scale (5.1 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.1 yppl against an average FBS defense). I project at modest 366 yards at 5.3 yppl for the EMU in this game.
Eastern Michigan’s defense was horrible the first 4 games of the season (allowed 38.5 ppg and 6.4 yppl to teams that would average just 5.3 yppl) but the coaching staff made a change to the defensive scheme after giving up 50 points to Buffalo in week 4 and since then the Eagles’ stop unit has allowed just 23.6 ppg and has been just 0.4 yppl worse than average (5.2 yppl allowed to teams that would average 4.8 yppl – adjusted for facing backup quarterbacks for half a game each against Akron and Kent State and a full game against Toledo). San Jose State’s offense rates at 0.6 yppl worse than average but is better than that because veteran quarterback Chevan Cordeiro has a history of not throwing many interceptions and he has thrown just 4 picks this season. I project 359 at 5.7 yppl for San Jose State in this game.
Overall San Jose State is the better team from the line of scrimmage, but the Spartans have horrible special teams, as they are -5.8 yards in starting kickoff field position differential and -4.5 yards in net punt differential. San Jose State’s +12 turnover margin is a bit lucky, even with Cordeiro not likely to throw many interceptions (I project only a +0.27 turnover differential for this game) and the Spartans continue to be overrated.
The Spartans should not be favored by more than 3 points and I’ll call for the outright upset for Eastern Michigan, which is something they have a habit of doing under coach Creighton.