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

(23) Liberty vs
(9) Coastal Carolina

Sat, Dec 26 4:30 PM PT

Rotation: 283, Odds: Coastal Carolina -7, Total: 59.5

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Coastal Carolina (-7)  34   Liberty  26

What a great matchup this is. Both Coastal Carolina and Liberty have had magical seasons, as the Chanticleers are unbeaten with wins over good teams Louisiana-Lafayette, Appalachian State and BYU while the Flames have a win at Virginia Tech with their only loss being by just 1 point at NC State.

Liberty is led on offense by former Auburn backup Malik Willis, who has run for over 900 yards at 9 yards a pop and has been better throwing the ball than anticipated, completing 64% of his passes with just 4 interceptions (3 in their one loss to NC State). Liberty’s offense has been 0.3 yards per play better than an average FBS attack (6.7 yppl against FBS teams that would allow 6.4 yppl to an average team) and I project 366 yards at 6.0 yppl for the Flames in this game against a better than average Coastal Carolina defense that given up only 18.5 points per game and 5.5 yppl (to teams that would average 5.7 yppl against an average defensive team).

Coastal Carolina may be the most surprisingly good team in the nation thanks to freshman quarterback Grayson McCall, who has completed 69% of his passes while rating at 2.0 yards per pass play better than average (8.8 yppp against teams that would allow 6.8 yppp to an average FBS QB). McCall can also run the ball effectively (over 500 yards at 6.0 yprp) and the Chanticleers’ run-oriented attack has averaged 36.9 points and 6.6 yppl against FBS teams that would allow 6.0 yppl to an average team (they’re +0.8 yppl with McCall in the game).

Liberty has been 0.3 yppl worse than average defensively (5.2 yppl allowed to teams that would average 4.9 yppl against an average defense) and the Flames are bad defending the run (0.5 yprp worse than average) and would be worse defensively if #1 tackler (on a per game basis) LB Anthony Butler misses this game (he’s questionable). Coastal’s offense should perform pretty well and I project 430 yards at 7.1 yppl for the Chanticleers. Overall the math favors Coastal Carolina by 8 points. I’ll pass on this game.

Oklahoma St. vs
Miami Fla

Tue, Dec 29 2:30 PM PT

Rotation: 295, Odds: Miami Fla +1, Total: 61

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Lean – Oklahoma State (-1)  33   Miami-Florida  30

The difference in this game is that Oklahoma State’s best player, WR Tylan Wallace, has said how important it is for him to play this game to go out the right way and not abandon his teammates, while Miami’s two most impactful defensive players have selfishly opted not to play in order to prepare for the NFL combine.

Wallace gets double-teamed consistently yet still managed to average 10.2 yards per target this season while averaging over 100 yards per game in this 8 games (he missed 2 games). Chuba Hubbard left the team before the end of the regular season but the Cowboys ran the ball better in 3 games without the 2019 All-American, as Hubbard only averaged 4.7 ypr this season while the other 3 backs all averaged 5.6 ypr or more. Number 3 back LD Brown may not play but Jackson and Richardson combined for 735 yards at 5.7 ypr so Brown’s availability isn’t a factor. Oklahoma State’s offense was 0.7 yppl better than average for the season (6.0 yppl against teams that would allow 5.3 yppl to an average team) but I rate them at +0.8 yppl with Wallace playing and Hubbard gone.

Miami’s defense was mostly good this season until giving up 62 points on over 10 yards per play to North Carolina in their regular season finale. I’ll chalk that up as aberration and Miami’s defensive rating was 0.7 yppl better than average using a weighted median to dampen the affect of that outlier game versus UNC. However, Miami’s two dominant defensive linemen, Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche, have decided not to play and those two combined for 12.5 sacks and 30 total tackles for loss. The player with the third highest sack total on the team, Jared Harrison-Hunte (3 sacks) also may not play due to injury. The secondary is also weaker without top CB Al Blades, who was declared out for the season due to medical issues before the North Carolina debacle. My algorithm values those 3 players as worth 3.3 points and I project 503 total yards at 6.3 yppl for Oklahoma State in this game.

Miami’s offense is certainly capable of keeping up with dynamic quarterback D’Eriq King, who ran for nearly 700 yards at 7.2 yards per run and averaged 7.1 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.4 yppp) while continuing his career pattern of avoiding turnovers (just 5 interceptions in 10 games). Miami’s running backs are below average but overall the Hurricanes were a bit better than average running the ball because of King’s contribution and they were 0.5 yppl better than average overall on offense. Oklahoma State’s defense has an advantage, as the Cowboys’ yielded just 22.4 points per game and 5.3 yppl (excluding garbage time) against teams that would combine to average 6.1 yppl against an average defensive team. Miami is projected to gain 415 yards at 5.6 yppl.

Oklahoma State should have an advantage from the line of scrimmage, but quarterback Spencer Sanders is interception prone while King is not and the Hurricanes have very good special teams, including a kicker that made 18 of 20 field goals while making both kicks from 50-yards or more.

Overall, the math favors Oklahoma State by 3.3 points and I’ll lean with the Cowboys at -1 or better.

Texas vs
Colorado

Tue, Dec 29 6:00 PM PT

Rotation: 297, Odds: Colorado +12.5, Total: 63.5

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Note: This Best Bet was released when the line was +12.5. I’d still lean with Colorado at less than +10.

Best Bet – *Colorado (+12.5)  29   Texas  33

Texas has taken advantage of teams that didn’t care as much as they did in their recent bowl games and now the Longhorns appear to be the team that doesn’t care, as 6 key players have opted out to prepare for the NFL combine. In 2018, Texas beat an uninterested Georgia team that had legitimate hopes of being in the playoff dashed and last season the Longhorns faced a Utah team that blew their chance of a playoff spot with a Pac-12 Championship game loss and were understandably less excited about playing in the Alamo Bowl. Texas played well in both games but I’m pretty confident that they didn’t face the best version of their two more talented opponents in those bowl upsets. Now I feel that Texas isn’t going to be at their best playing in the same bowl game they played in last season and facing an upstart Colorado team that is unlikely to fuel their flame. The Buffaloes, meanwhile, have got to be fired up to be playing in a bowl game in coach Karl Dorrell’s first season after 3 consecutive losing campaigns prior to their 2020 turnaround.

Dorrell did a great job instilling confidence in the Buffaloes, who started the season 4-0 straight up and 4-0 ATS before losing to a superior Utah team. Colorado is not a great team but the Buffs are good on both sides of the ball, rating at 0.4 yards per play better than average offensively (5.9 yppl against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) and 0.5 yppl better than average defensively (5.6 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.1 yppl against an average defense). Overall, Colorado was 9.1 points better than FBS average from the line of scrimmage this season. The Buffaloes market rating is worse because they weren’t expected to be good and their prior is still a significant part of their market rating because they’ve played just 5 games. However, Colorado’s line of scrimmage rating (adjusted for site and opponent) was consistently better than average (+14.3 points, +13.2 points, +8.8 points, +5.1 points, and +4.0 points). I do notice the downward trend but that’s likely random and their worst game would be enough to cover the number in this game.

Texas is a good team but the Longhorns have only covered the spread twice in 8 games since beating up on lowly UTEP to open the season and now they’ve had 6 key players opt out to prepare for the NFL. Losing LT Samuel Cosmi is not likely to disrupt the offense too much but top receiver Brennan Eagles declared for the NFL draft on Tuesday and he’s worth 0.8 points. The defensive losses, however, are significant. Free safety Caden Sterns, who leads the team in tackles per game, left the team a few weeks ago and he’s been joined by LB Joseph Ossai, DT Ta’quon Graham, and SS Chris Brown. Graham is an elite run-stuffer and Brown leads the team in passes defended and is 5th in tackles. Those losses will be felt but the big loss is the absence of Ossai, who is a disruptive force who is 2nd on the Longhorns in tackles, leads the team in sacks and has 16 total tackles for loss, which is an incredible number for 9 games. My algorithm values those 4 defensive losses worth a combined 3.9 points and I don’t think that’s in the line on this game.

The Texas offense is very good (1.0 yards per play better than average) and should move the ball well against Colorado’s defense, which rates the same as the average defense faced by Texas this season. However, the Longhorns’ defense, which has been 0.6 yppl better than average for the season, projects to be just slightly better than average with 4 NFL caliber players not playing and the Buffaloes should move the ball well enough to keep up (451 yards at 5.9 yppl projected – adjusted for perfect dome conditions).

Texas has been only about 9 points better than Colorado this season and that gap has narrowed due to the Longhorns’ defections. I also think Colorado is likely to be more excited about playing in this game and teams from major conferences that are favored by more than 7 points in pre-New Year’s, non-major, bowl games are just 22-64-2 ATS since 1980. Texas is certainly prone to letting down against lesser teams while playing their best against good teams, as the Longhorns are just 4-9-1 ATS laying more than 10 points under coach Herman (compared to 12-5 ATS as an underdog). Colorado is a 1-Star Best Bet at +10 points or more.

Wake Forest vs
Wisconsin

Wed, Dec 30 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 311, Odds: Wisconsin -10, Total: 51.5

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Wisconsin (-10)  30   Wake Forest  20

The line on this game went up with the news that Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz would play and having star running back Jalen Berger back for this game is just as important. Berger is a consistently good runner that averaged 5.9 yards per rush in his 3 games despite not having a run longer than 23 yards. The other running backs combined for just 4.2 ypr despite facing worse run defenses and having Berger back should restore Wisconsin’s ball-control rushing attack and put less pressure on Mertz, who hasn’t been as good without receivers Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis, who have played a combined 5 games. Pryor and Davis combined for 197 yards on 20 targets and that production has been replaced by a group of receivers averaging about 7 yards per target. Wisconsin’s offense was 0.3 yards per play worse than average in the regular season and the return of Berger and the absence of Pryor, Davis, and C Lytles is a wash. Wake Forest is average defensively and I project 403 total yards at a modest 5.6 yppl for the Badgers.

The Wake Forest offense is below average on a yards per play basis, averaging 5.5 yppl against teams that would allow 5.7 yppl to an average team, but quarterback Sam Hartman has only thrown 1 interception in 8 games this season and has had a low interception rate over his career (projected at just 0.5 interceptions in this game). Wisconsin has a very good defense that defends the run and the pass well and has been 1.0 yppl better than average overall (4.9 yppl against teams that would average 5.9 yppl) while forcing a lot of 3-and-outs (just 54 plays per game allowed) and giving up only 15.7 points per game. The Demon Deacons are projected to average only 4.7 yppl and to score 20 points.

Overall, the math favors Wisconsin by 10 points and I have no opinion on the side or total on this game.

Florida vs
Oklahoma

Wed, Dec 30 5:00 PM PT

Rotation: 315, Odds: Oklahoma -3, Total: 68

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Lean – Under (68) – Oklahoma (-3.5)  34   Florida  28

Oklahoma has been one of the best teams in the nation since starting the season 1-2 with close losses to Kansas State and Iowa State. The absence of top running back Rhamondre Stevenson and DE Ronnie Perkins in the Sooners’ first 4 games may have cost them a chance at a National Championship, as the Sooners have been dominating in the 5 games that those two stars have played in. Oklahoma has outscored their opponents by an average score of 43.8 to 17.0 points while outgaining those teams 6.9 yards per play to 4.4 ypp. That includes wins over good teams Oklahoma State (41-13) and Iowa State (27-21).

Oklahoma allowed 7.2 yards per play in their first two games against FBS opponents due to some big pass plays allowed (19.9 yards per reception allowed to Kansas State and Iowa State) but the secondary has tightened up since then (just 10.8 ypc in their last 7 games) and the pass rush had become dominant since Perkins began playing. Perkins has 5.5 sacks in 5 games, joining Isaiah Thomas (0.8 sacks per game) and Nik Bonitto (0.83 sacks per game) to give the Sooners a trio that is tough to stop. Oklahoma has averaged 4.2 sacks in 5 games with Perkins while the defense has yielded just 4.4 yards per pass play (to quarterbacks that would combine to average 6.3 yppp against an average defense) and 4.4 yppl (to teams that would average 5.7 yppl). The Sooners’ defense has actually been 1.3 yppl better than average over the 7 games since that second loss, so they started playing well before Perkins’ suspension was lifted.

Florida’s offense has been among the very best in the nation this season, averaging 41.6 points and over 500 yards per game at 7.5 yards per play (when the starting QB Kyle Trask was in the game) against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team. However, the Gators’ top 4 receivers have all opted out to pursue their NFL careers and Jacob Copeland, Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes, and TE Kyle Pitts combined for 2778 yards at 10.9 yards per target. The wide receivers and tight ends that are likely to play in this game combined for 8.5 yards per target, which equates to a difference of 1.4 yards per pass play and about 5 points per game. Oklahoma’s defense has a slight edge over a Florida attack devoid of their best receivers and without a good ground game (just 4.7 yards per rushing play against teams that would allow 5.1 yprp to an average team). I project a modest 5.7 yppl for the Gators in this game.

Oklahoma’s offense has been 1.2 yppl better than average for the season (6.6 yppl against teams that would allow 5.4 yppl) and the Sooners are +1.3 yppl with Stevenson, who averaged 96 yards per game at 5.8 ypr while the next two backs combined for 4.9 ypr and don’t play as much now. T.J. Pledger won’t play in this game, but his 4.7 ypr is the worst of the 3 top backs. Florida’s defense has 0.6 yppl better than average and I project 6.4 yppl for the Sooners in this game.

While both teams are high-scoring teams they both run their offense at a slower than average tempo and I only expect 131 total plays to be run (excluding spikes and kneel downs). That’s not a lot of plays to get to nearly 70 points and I would have projected only 66 points before adjusting for Florida’s 4 top receivers not playing. The under was nearly a Strong Opinion and there is some value on Oklahoma as a side.

 

Tulsa vs
Mississippi St.

Thu, Dec 31 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 317, Odds: Mississippi St. +2.5, Total: 49

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Note: The Strong Opinion on the Under 49 was released to subscribers last week when the total was higher. The total dropped since then, partially due to my release of the under and partially due to worse than expected weather.

Strong Opinion – Under (49) – Mississippi State (+2.5)  19   Tulsa  18

Original predicted score was 21-19

Note: The weather in Fort Worth for the Armed Forces bowl between Tulsa and Mississippi State is dreadful, with heavy rain and 15 mph winds. Those weather conditions affect passing by 0.6 yards per pass play and usually force a slower pace due to more running. I don’t expect Mississippi State to run the ball that much more, but Tulsa probably will. Overall, the weather is likely to reduce scoring by 5.6 points and I had only had a bit more than a 2 point adjustment when I checked the weather forecast before releasing the under as a Strong Opinion last week.

Both of these teams are much better defensively than offensively and I don’t expect either team to move the ball consistently in this game. The constraint on the Strong Opinion Under is now 45 points or higher.

Tulsa has been mediocre offensively, averaging 5.7 yppl and 27.3 points against teams that would combine to allow 5.7 yppl to an average team. Mississippi State’s defense has been really good this season, yielding only 5.7 yppl and 28.3 points per game against an SEC schedule of teams that would combine to average 6.6 yppl versus an average defensive team. Tulsa is projected to gain just 308 yards at 4.9 yppl in this game.

Mississippi State mysteriously scored 51 points (37 by the offense) and averaged 6.9 yppl in their final game against Missouri but that random outburst was preceded by 8 games in which the Bulldogs averaged only 14 points and scored 24 points or fewer in each game. The only two teams that Miss State scored 24 points or more against this season rank as average (Missouri) or bad (LSU) defensively and Tulsa’s defense has been very good all season. The Golden Hurricane have yielded only 20.8 points per game and 4.9 yppl to a schedule of teams that would combine to average 32.1 points and 6.0 yppl against an average offensive team. Paramount in defending Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack is having a good tackling secondary that keep those short passes as short gains and Tulsa has allowed a very low 10.3 yards per completion this season and has been 1.3 yppl better than average defending the pass. Miss State QB Will Rogers has only averaged 5.2 yards per pass play and Tulsa’s pass defense is 0.8 yppp better than the weighted average of pass defenses that Rogers has faced. I project Rogers with just 4.4 yppp and for the Bulldogs to gain just 290 yards at 3.9 yppl.

Neither team is going to have an easy time moving the ball and I like the Under for a Strong Opinion at 45 points or higher.

Ball St. vs
San Jose St.

Thu, Dec 31 11:00 AM PT

Rotation: 321, Odds: San Jose St. -7, Total: 65

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San Jose State (-9.5)  36   Ball State  28

San Jose State is a surprising 7-0 and Ball State surprised favored Buffalo in the MAC Championship game and hasn’t lost since their opening game. The Spartans, however, are clearly above average on a national scale (+6.7 compensated points line of scrimmage rating) while Ball State is below average on both sides of the ball and had an average LOS rating of -5.1 points.

The Spartans are led by former Texas A&M and Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel, who was the best quarterback on every team he played on but kept getting replaced by younger players that were considered to have more upside potential (Kellen Mond being the one that replaced him at A&M, who I still don’t think is as good as Starkel). Starkel has averaged 8.6 yards per pass play for the Spartans (against teams that would allow 7.1 yppp to an average FBS quarterback) and he should have his usual productive game against a Ball State defense that has allowed 66.7% completions and 7.4 yards per pass play to quarterbacks that would combine to average 6.5 yppp against an average defensive team. The Cardinals are a bit better than average defending the run and San Jose State is worse than average running the ball but Starkel is projected to easily top 300 yards passing at 8.9 yppp in this game.

Ball State’s offense is led by the steady play of quarterback Drew Plitt, who completes 66% of his passes for 7.1 yppp but has faced teams that would allow 7.6 yppp to an average quarterback. The Cardinals’ rush attack was a bit better than average with Caleb Huntley as the featured back early in the season, but Huntley left the team to pursue his pro career after running for 437 yards at 5.5 ypr in 3 games (against teams that would allow 5.6 ypr to an average back) and I now rate Ball State’s rush attack at 0.4 yprp worse than average. Overall, Ball State’s attack is 0.4 yards per play worse than average while San Jose State’s defense has allowed just 17.9 points per game and rates at 0.4 yppl better than average (5.1 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl against an average team – adjusted for facing New Mexico with Tuioti at quarterback).

Ball State does have an advantage in special teams but overall the math favors San Jose State by 10.2 points, which is about where the line has climbed to. However, Ball State applies to a 59-8-2 ATS big underdog situation that won with UTSA against a far superior Louisiana-Lafayette team last Saturday (lost by 7 as a 14-point underdog). I’d lean slightly with Ball State at +10 (-110 odds) or better.

West Virginia vs
Army

Thu, Dec 31 1:00 PM PT

Rotation: 319, Odds: Army +9.5, Total: 43.5

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Lean – Army (+9.5)  15  West Virginia  21

Lean – Under (41)

Note: News broke yesterday that 24 Army football players are part of an honors violation for cheating on an exam. Normally that would result in players not being allowed to play, but that ban was lifted in November and from what I understand most of the violators are first year students that don’t have significant roles on the football team – although a formal list has not been made public. The players have not been suspended from the team in previous games since the violation was first discovered , so there may be no action taken for this game either – and the impact is not likely to be significant if those players are not allowed to play since most apparently don’t play anyway. But, the line has moved up 2.5 points on the news and there is now enough value on Army to lean with the Cadets – although it’s possible there could be some distractions given how the news went public yesterday.

Also, the weather is much worse than anticipated with steady rain and more wind than expected. The weather doesn’t have as much of an affect on Army since wind and rain don’t have a significant impact on running the ball, which is all Army does, while it is likely to affect West Virginia’s offense, which throws more than they run.

Army got the bowl game they deserved when Tennessee dropped out of this game due to Covid issues and West Virginia might struggle to defend the triple-option attack with a couple of stars from their defensive front-7 deciding not play in pursuit of the NFL aspirations.

Army is 9-2 with their two losses coming against Cincinnati and Tulane defenses that defend the run well (Cincy 1.0 yards per rushing play better than average and Tulane 0.7 yprp better than average) and West Virginia certainly checks that box, as the Mountaineers have been 0.9 yprp better than average against the run (4.6 yprp allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yprp against an average defensive team). That run defense isn’t likely to be quite as good without Big 12 tackles leader LB Tony Fields and DL Darius Stills but the Mountaineers do get a solid addition in Scottie Young, who has finally been cleared to play after transferring from Arizona along with Fields. Young was 4th on the team in tackles for Arizona in 2019 and has been practicing all season and will be eager to play. So, the absence of Fields is offset a bit and West Virginia still has a good run defense. Whether they’ll be able to successfully defend the option is unknown.

Army’s offense averaged just 5.1 yards per play this season (against teams that would allow 6.4 yppl to an average team) but those numbers were dragged down by facing 5 teams that run the option and know how to defend it (Citadel, Tulane, Georgia Southern, Navy, and Air Force) Option teams tend to perform relatively worse against teams that see the option every day in practice and the Cadets averaged only 261 yards at 4.1 yppl in those 5 games against teams that run the option (Tulane doesn’t run as much option as they used to but their coaching staff knows how to defend it). Army averaged 367 yards at 5.6 yppl in the 5 games against FBS teams that don’t run the option while rating at just 0.8 yppl worse than average after compensating for the overall defensive ratings of those teams (0.5 yppl better than their overall rating). In my model I used only Army’s offensive ratings from those games against non-option teams, although I still project just 257 yards at 4.2 yppl for the Cadets in this game.

West Virginia’s offense is a bit below average on a national scale (5.6 yppl against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average team) and Army has been 0.2 yppl better than average – and they were just as good against non-option teams. West Virginia is now projected to gain 329 yards at just 5.1 yppl and Army’s slow offensive pace and domination of the ball (averaged 34.2 minutes of possession per game) should result in a low scoring game for West Virginia.

The math favors West Virginia by only 5 points with the weather adjustment affecting their offense significantly more than Army’s run-oriented attack, and Military academies tend to perform well in bowl games (36-14 ATS), particularly if they have a win percentage of greater than .667 (23-4 ATS). I’ll now lean with Army based on the overreaction to the academic cheating scandal and the bad weather that is likely to affect West Virginia more. I’ll also lean Under 41 points or higher.

Georgia vs
Cincinnati

Fri, Jan 1 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 327, Odds: Cincinnati +7.5, Total: 51.5

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Georgia (-7.5)  31   Cincinnati  23

Georgia would have had a very good shot at a playoff spot had USC transfer quarterback J.T. Daniels been cleared to play earlier in the season and All-SEC safety Richard Lecounte had not been in a motorcycle accident that kept him out of the last 4 games. Georgia’s defense was among the best in the nation in 5 games with Lecounte, rating at 2.1 yards per play better than average (4.6 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.7 yppl against an average defensive team), and the Bulldogs have been just 1.0 yppl better than average in 4 games without Lecounte, who has been practicing the last few weeks and could play some in this game. Regardless, the defense won’t be in top form without starters LB Monty Rice, CB Eric Stokes (leads the team in interceptions and passes defended) and LB Jermaine Johnson (#2 on the team with 5 sacks).

Daniels was cleared to play in mid-November and started the team’s final 3 games while completing 67% of his passes and averaging 9.0 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.0 yppp to an average quarterback). The other two Georgia quarterbacks combined for 53% completions and 6.1 yppp and having Daniels all season, to go along with a strong rushing attack, would have made the Bulldogs elite offensively (they averaged 41.7 points and 7.8 yppl in Daniels’ 3 starts). Georgia’s only loss aside from Alabama was against Florida in a game in which they had neither Daniels or Lecounte and I would have favored the Bulldogs to win that game if both were playing – and a win would have given the Bulldogs a good shot at a playoff spot ahead of Notre Dame, who I’d favor Georgia against now even without Lecounte.

Cincinnati enters this game unbeaten and some are griping about the Bearcats not being more seriously considered for a playoff spot. The fact that they are underdogs of more than a touchdown in this game is certainly an indication that they don’t belong in the playoffs. Cincinnati is a good team, as they have been 16.3 points better than an average FBS team this season, but they’re not close to being good enough to be included in the top 4.

Cincy’s defense is certainly good enough, as the Bearcats have been 1.4 yards per play better than average on that side of the ball, which ranks 4th best in the nation (Georgia’s defense was #2 for the season). The Bearcats have a good offense that averaged 39.3 points and 6.7 yppl against a schedule of teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average offense but they are no better offensively than the average attack the Georgia faced this season playing an SEC only schedule.

My math favors Georgia by 8.2 points with some chance given that Lecounte will play and adjusted for the missing defenders and RB James Cook being out, but the value would be slightly on the side of Cincinnati if Lecounte doesn’t play at all. I’ll pass.

Auburn vs
Northwestern

Fri, Jan 1 10:00 AM PT

Rotation: 329, Odds: Northwestern -4.5, Total: 44

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Strong Opinion – Auburn (+3.5)  20   Northwestern  19

Note: Auburn’s star RB Tank Bigsby is not going to play. He’s worth 1.6 points. I had already factored in WR Schwartz being out but CB Roger McCreary was announced as out yesterday and he’s worth 0.5 points. The line has moved to +4.5 points. If you didn’t play the Strong Opinion yet then I’d still consider Auburn a Strong Opinion at +4 or more.

Auburn hasn’t beaten a high-quality team all season – their best wins are against Kentucky and Ole’ Miss – but three of the Tigers’ four losses have come against top-10 teams Georgia, Alabama and Texas A&M and the Tigers’ only other defeat was due to bad turnover luck, as they outgained South Carolina by 179 yards in their loss to the Gamecocks. Meanwhile, Northwestern’s only win of 3 points or more against a good team (17-7 over Wisconsin) was the result of a +4 turnover margin (outgained by over 100 yards in that game by the Badgers). What we have here are two good but not great teams and my model likes Auburn.

Auburn’s offense depends on their ability to run and for quarterback Bo Nix to not throw interceptions, which most of the time he doesn’t (16 of 23 career starts with no interceptions thrown). Nix isn’t bad overall in the pass game, as his low interception rate makes up for his mediocre yards per pass play numbers (6.0 yppp against teams that would allow 5.9 yppp to an average QB) but throwing against Northwestern’s strong pass defense (only 4.2 yppp allowed) will be a challenge, even with 1st-Team All-Big 10 CB Greg Newsome III not playing (preparing for NFL). However, Nix can get out of trouble with his legs when he can’t find an open receiver (465 yards on 78 runs) and Auburn’s strong ground assault (5.6 yards per rushing play against teams that would allow just 4.7 yprp to an average team) should work pretty well against a Wildcats’ defense that was gashed on the ground by Ohio State and has allowed 5.4 yprp for the season. Northwestern will also be without top pass-rusher Eku Leota, who has decided to transfer.

While Auburn should be able to move the ball on the ground, I don’t see any form of offense that is likely to work consistently well for the Wildcats in this game. Northwestern is below average both running (4.4 yprp against teams that would allow 4.8 yprp) and throwing the football (5.4 yppp against teams that would allow 6.0 yppp) and Auburn’s defense is good defending both the run (5.2 yprp allowed to teams that would average 5.7 yprp) and the pass (6.3 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would average 7.3 yppp against an average defense).

Overall the math projects Auburn with an edge of 22 total yards with turnovers about even (0.1 edge for NW) and the Tigers have better special teams, which is important for field position in what should be a defensive struggle.

In a normal bowl season the math difference from the line would be enough to make Auburn a Best Bet but the SEC and Big 10 did not play out of their conference this season so there is more variability in the strength of each conference, which requires a stricter threshold for games to be considered math model plays. Northwestern does, however, apply to a 26-82-1 ATS bowl situation, so there is some technical support to go along with the line value. Auburn is a Strong Opinion at +4 points or more (originally at +3 or more).