The 2021 College Football Free Analysis sides were 274-256-6 (and a very profitable 82-56-2 on differences from the line of 4 points or more) while totals were 270-274-3.

 

The record on all Free Analysis sides is now 2338-2112-79 ATS since 2013, which is very good picking nearly every game over 8-plus years. The Free Analysis sides in which my predicted margin was 4 points or more away from the line are a profitable 769-642-29. Totals on the Free pages are now 2077-2031-34 in the 8 seasons I’ve been tracking them and the bigger differences of 6 points or more are no longer profitable long term.

 

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

College Bowl Games

UTSA vs
San Diego St.

Tue, Dec 21 4:30 PM PT

Rotation: 223, Odds: San Diego St. -3, Total: 49

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Lean – Texas-San Antonio (+3)  23   San Diego State  24

UTSA opened up as a 2.5-point favorite but news that All-American RB Sincere McCormick is foregoing this game to prepare for the NFL draft process moved the line significantly. That’s a severe overreaction for a guy that averages 4.95 yards per run, which is below the national average. McCormick is a mediocre back that got his accolades because he ran the ball 300 times and gained a lot of yards. McCormick’s backups combined to average 4.79 ypr this season on 82 runs so I don’t see any major drop-off in production from a UTSA rushing attack that wasn’t going to be able to run the ball against the Aztecs even if McCormick were playing. San Diego State has one of the best run defenses in the nation, as they yielded just 3.8 yards per rushing play this season to teams that would combine to average 4.8 yprp against an average team. It will be up to the arm (and scrambling ability) of quarterback Frank Harris to carry the Roadrunners’ attack. Harris is a good quarterback, as he averaged 7.5 yards per pass play against FBS teams that would combine to allow 6.8 yppp while also adding 658 yards on 91 runs (7.2 yprp). San Diego State is 0.6 yppp better than average defensively and Harris is projected at 6.4 yppp in this game while throwing more than he usually does (as most teams do against the Aztecs when they realize they can’t run it). Even an elite Utah rushing attack was shut down by SDSU’s defensive front (only 91 yards at 3.4 yprp) so UTSA’s offense will go as Harris goes.

I don’t expect the Roadrunners to score much but San Diego State doesn’t figure to move the ball that well either. The Aztecs are a bad offensive team that averaged only 5.1 yards per play against a schedule of teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average attack. It looks like Lucas Johnson will get the start at quarterback and he has been 0.2 yppp worse than Brookshire, who may also get snaps. UTSA’s defense has been 0.3 yppl worse than average (5.8 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl) but their aggressive approach in defending the pass shouldn’t hurt them in this game. UTSA doesn’t allow a high percentage of completions (58.4%) but their scheme is susceptible to giving up big plays (14.1 yards per catch allowed). That scheme should work well against Johnson, who tends to settle for underneath passes and has only averaged 9.6 yards per completion. UTSA was only hurt by the pass against good quarterbacks at Memphis, Western Kentucky (twice) and UAB, who all like to throw it deep. Those quarterbacks combined for 9.2 yards per pass play against the Roadrunners while the other 8 FBS teams averaged only 5.2 yppp. The Aztecs are projected to average 5.15 yppp in this game but it could be lower given Johnson’s reluctance to throw the ball deep, which is what must be done to beat UTSA through the air.

I was going to lean a bit with San Diego State when UTSA was favored by the line has significantly overreacted to the absence of a mediocre running back that is an All-American by name only in my opinion. I’ll lean with UTSA at +3 points or more.

Note:

There were rumors of a covid outbreak for UTSA over the weekend and the coach confirmed that at least 9 players missed the final practice on Sunday. He said that some will play and some won’t. The list that missed practice includes 4 contributors on defense (3 starters) and the #2 receiver, who I had already assumed was out. If the defensive players are all out then that would be worth 1.4 points based on their defensive stats and I’d then have San Diego State by 2.2 points with a total of 43.8 points and I’d have a predicted score of SDSU 24-22 (my math model tends to projected a couple of points lower on low scoring totals).

However, not all of those players were said to be out so I’ll adjust half of that 1.4 points in the math model projection. SDSU by 1 point is probably the best prediction given the information that is available.

Missouri vs
Army

Wed, Dec 22 5:00 PM PT

Rotation: 225, Odds: Army -6.5, Total: 54.5

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Army (-6.5)  31   Missouri  24

This wasn’t a good matchup for Missouri to begin with, given that their defense has struggled defending the run this season (6.0 yards per rushing play allowed), and now the Tigers will be without starting DT Akial Byers and leading tackler S Martez Manuel. The Tigers will also be without star RB Tyler Badie (1604 yards at 6.0 ypr), who left the team to prepare for the NFL combine.

Badie’s absence should have an impact, but his backups weren’t bad, as the rest of the running backs combined for 5.4 ypr on 73 runs this season. However, Army defends the run well, which will put more pressure on new starting quarterback Brady Cook, who beat out two-year starter Connor Bazelak in an open competition among the top 3 quarterbacks during bowl practices. Hard to say how good Cook will be, as his only real work this season was against the best defense in the nation (Georgia), when he totaled just 42 yards 15 pass plays before the Bulldogs’ backups entered the game (25 yards on 6 pass plays in garbage time).

I’ll assume that Cook is not a downgrade given that he beat out Bazelak and not having Badie to dump the ball off too might help the Tigers’ aerial attack. While Badie was great in the run game, he was terrible catching the ball out of the backfield, averaging a pathetic 4.4 yards on 75 targets with just a 32% success rate in the pass game. Why would you target a running back 75 times when he’s only averaging 4.4 yards per target? Perhaps the offensive coordinator won’t be so stupid without Badie as an option and throwing the ball downfield more could produce better results in the pass game – especially against an Army defense that’s allow 7.4 yards per pass play to quarterbacks that would combine to average 6.2 yppp against an average defense. I didn’t adjust the Missouri pass offense up because Badie is out, but there is certainly a reasonable chance that it could be better. I project 328 yards at 5.7 yards per play for the Tigers in this game.

Army’s option rushing attack should work well against Missouri’s bad run defense and I project 341 rushing yards at 6.0 yprp and 418 total yards at 6.5 yppl for the Black Knights in this game.

Overall, the math only favors Army by 4.8 points, with a total of 53.0 points, but the Cadets tend to score a couple of points more than projections because of their analytically correct 4th down decisions (they went for it on 4th down 36 times and converted on 25 of them). So, I’ll call for Army by 7 with a total of 55 points and I have no interest in betting this game.

North Texas vs
Miami Ohio

Thu, Dec 23 12:30 PM PT

Rotation: 291, Odds: Miami Ohio -2, Total: 56

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Note: The line closed at -2, but I added a lean on Miami-Ohio when the line went down to -1 on Thursday morning – before going back up a bit.

Lean – Miami-Ohio (-1)  30   North Texas  26

North Texas won their final 5 games of the season after a 1-6 start and this game was added to the bowl schedule to accommodate all bowl eligible teams. The Mean Green are certainly better now than their overall season numbers, as the pass game as the offense has been better with Austin Aune at quarterback while the defensive improved starting in week 9 (the beginning of their win streak) when safety DeShawn Gaddie was moved to cornerback, where he thrived (5 passes defended in 5 games at CB and just 1 PD in 7 starts at safety).

The North Texas defense was 0.6 yards per play worse than average for the season but I rate that unit at 0.3 yppl worse than average with their current lineup. Miami’s offense is also better than their season rating of +0.2 yppl (6.5 yppl against teams that would allow 6.3 yppl), as star quarterback Brett Gabbert was banged up the first part of the season and backup A.J. Mayer was 0.5 yards per pass play worse than average. Gabbert, meanwhile, averaged 8.5 yppp against teams that would allow 7.2 yppp to an average quarterback. The Redhawks’ rush attack is not good (0.7 yprp worse than average) and that could be an issue if Gabbert’s passing is affected by the high winds (17 mph with gusts close to 30 mph). High winds usually mean more running, which is certainly not going to help Miami. I project 421 yards at 6.4 yppl for Miami-Ohio, even with the high winds factored in.

The North Texas offense is ideally suited for the wind, as the Mean Green ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards per game this season and are projected to gain a decent 5.2 yards per rushing play against a sub-par Miami run defense. Austin Aune was an upgrade at quarterback but he’s still 0.9 yppp worse than average (6.1 yppp against teams that would allow 7.0 yppp) and he’s projected to average only 6.2 yppp in this game. I project North Texas’ ball-control offense to gain 431 yards at 5.3 yppl.

Overall, the math favors Miami-Ohio by 2.5 points with North Texas getting half a home field advantage for playing 30 minutes from home in Frisco, Texas – a place that isn’t likely to draw many Miami fans. Running teams tend to outperform expectations in bowl games but the Mean Green also apply to a 1-21-1 ATS subset of a 29-83-1 ATS bowl situation that plays against ‘hot’ teams. The math leans over a bit, with 58 total points projected even with the winds, but I don’t like the idea of playing over in wind games and North Texas may run the ball even more than projected.

UCF vs
Florida

Thu, Dec 23 4:00 PM PT

Rotation: 227, Odds: Florida -6.5, Total: 55.5

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Strong Opinion – Florida (-6.5 -115)  34   Central Florida  22

Florida has some key players opting out but they still have a significant talent edge and the Golden Knights are an overrated team with a terrible quarterback.

Mikey Keene took over for injured star QB Dillon Gabriel in week 4 and Keene averaged only 5.5 yards per pass play against a schedule of mostly bad defensive teams that would allow 7.2 yppp to an average quarterback. UCF runs the ball well, averaging 5.8 yards per rushing play in Keene’s 9 starts (against teams that would allow 5.1 yprp) but overall the UCF attack is 0.4 yards per play worse than average. Florida’s defense was just 0.3 yppl better than average this season and will be worse without # tackler Mohamoud Diabate and DE Zach Carter, who had 8 sacks. Those two are worth 2.7 points combined according to my algorithm and the Gators are now just barely better than average defensively. UCF is projected to gain only 332 yards at 5.5 yppl even with the calm weather projected for this game.

Florida took a hit on offense with the departure of top WR Jacob Copeland, who led the team with 10.1 yards per target. Copeland is worth 1.6 points to Florida’s offense. The Gators’ rushing numbers also needed to be adjusted down with backup QB Anthony Richardson not playing, as he had 428 yards on 48 runs. Emory Jones is going to play despite planning on transferring but I believe he’ll be motivated to play well in order to help him find a good transfer destination. Florida’s run offense is still 0.6 yards per rushing play better than average while Jones was 1.1 yards per pass play better than average. The Knights have a bad run defense that rates at 0.7 yprp worse than average and they gave up 6.7 yprp in 4 games against average or better running teams this season (Louisville, Cincy, Tulane and SMU). UCF does have a good pass defense that allowed just 5.0 yppp, but they also were lucky to Memphis’ backup quarterback, who was terrible, and face SMU without star WR Gray. UCF still rates at 0.9 yppp better than average defending the pass, which is a bit better than Florida’s offensive pass rating with Jones and without Copeland (+0.7 yppp). The Gators are projected to average 6.4 yprp and 6.4 yppp, which should be good enough to outscore UCF’s sub-par offense by at least 7 points.

The math favors Florida by 11.6 points with a total of 57.0 points and there is no significant evidence that suggests teams with interim coaches tend to play worse in bowl games than teams with their head coach intact. Florida is a Strong Opinion at -7 -110 odds or better.

Memphis @
Hawaii

Fri, Dec 24 5:00 PM PT

Rotation: 229, Odds: Hawaii PK, Total:

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Note: This game was Canceled, which is unfortunate given that I had 3 points of line value on my Under Best Bet

2-Star Best Bet – **Under (58.5) – Memphis (-7.5)  29   HAWAII  21

Hawaii will be without starting quarterback Chevan Cordeiro and top running back Dae Dae Hunter (both transferred) while Memphis will be without All-AAC WR Calvin Austin III, who will forego this game to prepare for the NFL draft. Losing Austin certainly hurts the Tigers (worth about 2 points) but the absence of Cordeiro and Hunter more negatively affects the Hawaii offense.

Cordeiro missed 3 full games earlier this season and backup quarterback Brayden Schager was horrible in his place. Shager averaged just 4.6 yards on 117 pass plays this season despite facing teams that would allow 7.3 yppp to an average quarterback, and Hunter led the Rainbow Warriors in rushing while averaging 6.4 ypr (backup Dedrick Person averages 5.3 ypr). Cordeiro was just 0.1 yppp worse than average, so Schager is a significant downgrade and the major reason for playing the under in this game. Memphis rates as average defending the run and 0.1 yppp worse than average defending the pass, which is more than good enough to limit Hawaii’s depleted offense.

The market hasn’t adjusted as much as it should for Cordeiro being out – perhaps because Hawaii went 2-1 straight up and averaged 30.7 points in Schager’s three starts. However, that had nothing to do with Schager, as the rushing attack accounted for an average of 248 yards at 6.7 yprp in those 3 games, one of which was against the nation’s worst defensive team New Mexico State (whom Hawaii faced twice this season). Hunter, who is no longer with the team, averaged 10.4 ypr in those games, and the Hawaii rushing attack rates at 0.3 yprp worse than average without Hunter and Cordeio, who had 547 yards on 87 runs (Schager just 32 rushing yards in his 3 full games). Hawaii is a bad offensive team heading into this game.

Memphis should move the ball at a pretty good rate, even without Austin, who averaged an impressive 9.3 yards on 124 targets this season despite having the full attention of every defense that the Tigers faced. The other two starting receivers combined for a modest 7.8 yards per target and Hawaii can decide to double-team one of them or put an extra man at the line of scrimmage to defend the run. The Memphis rush attack has been 0.5 yards per rushing play worse than average (5.0 yprp against teams that would allow 5.5 yprp to an average team), but it has been 1.2 yprp worse than average without leading rusher Brandon Thomas the last 5 games, as Thomas’ 5.8 yprp is far better than the 4.1 ypr average of the other running backs. The Tigers’ pass attack rates at just 0.2 yppp better than average without Austin and with Seth Henigan at quarterback (he missed the UCF game and the backup averaged only 3.3 yppp). Henigan has been 0.7 yppp better than average (7.7 yppp against teams that would allow 7.0 yppp to an average QB) but projects to be 0.5 yppp worse than normal without his star receiver (which was a conservative estimate of Austin’s value).

Hawaii’s defense is 0.4 yppl worse than average and the double-digit winds, which are normal this time of year in Honolulu, should help the Warriors limit the Tigers to around 5.8 yppl.

I do expect these teams to run 151 plays but 17 mph winds with a chance of rain is in the forecast, which will make it tougher to pass (hurting Memphis more than Hawaii). The combined yards per play should be around 5.0 yppl, which is 0.7 yppl worse than the national average and the weather adjusted predicted total is just 49.9 points. The Under is a 2-Star Best Bet at 58 points or more and a 1-Star play down to 56 points.

Minor bowl game favorites of 7 points or more tend to letdown in bowl games, but that’s not the case for teams that had to win to qualify for a bowl game (i.e. 6-6 or 6-5 teams off a win), as those teams tend to be more excited about playing in a bowl game. The math favors Memphis by 8.3 points.

Georgia St. vs
Ball St.

Sat, Dec 25 11:30 AM PT

Rotation: 231, Odds: Ball St. +6, Total: 53.5

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Strong Opinion – Ball State (+6)  23   Georgia State  26

Lean – Under (53)

Georgia State is getting a lot of love, as this line has moved from 3.5 to 6 points. However, I don’t think the move is justified. Georgia State is certainly better now than they were early in the season with Cornelius Brown behind center and before Jamyest Williams starting to get double-digit carries. Darren Grainger was an upgrade at quarterback while Williams and Tucker Gregg combined for 1709 rushing yards at 5.8 ypr while replacing Coates and Carroll, who combined for just 3.8 ypr on their 78 runs.

The Georgia State offense was 0.8 yards per play worse than average for the season and they’re still 0.5 yppl worse than average even with the improvements to the offense. The rushing attack is good (0.3 yards per rushing play better than average), as Grainger adds to what Gregg and Williams are doing, but Grainger is 1.3 yards per pass play worse than average. Ball State defends the run relatively well, yielding just 4.7 yprp to teams that would combine to average 4.8 yprp against an average FBS team (which is really good for a MAC team) and Grainger isn’t likely to take full advantage of a Cardinals’ pass defense that is 0.9 yppp worse than average (which is better than Grainger’s rating). I project 408 yards at 5.5 yppl for the Panthers.

Ball State is offensively challenged, as veteran quarterback Drew Plitt had a down season and the Cardinals averaged just 5.1 yppl against a slate of opponents that would combine to allow 6.3 yppl to an average team. Ball State won’t be able to run the ball, as I project just 3.7 yprp against a good Georgia State run defense that is 0.6 yprp better than average. However, the Panthers are 1.2 yards per pass play worse than average when factoring in the quarterbacks that they faced (the beat Coastal Carolina without McCall and his backups are horrible). Ball State WR Justin Hall is not dressed for the game. Hall is the Cardinals’ best overall offensive weapon, as he is the team’s leading receiver, has 255 rushing yards at 6.9 ypr, and averaged 34.6 yards per kickoff return and 12 yards per punt return. Overall, Hall’s value is 2.2 points. I still project Plitt at only 5.7 yppp and for Ball State to gain just 344 yards at 4.7 yppl.

Ball State’s huge advantage, and the reason that they’re 6-6 and only outscored by 2.1 points per game despite being outgained by 79 per game, is their special teams. Ball State is +6.5 in net punt average and +2.4 in net kickoff average while Georgia State is -4.6 yards in net punting and -0.9 yards on kickoff differential. Not having Hall hurts the Ball State special teams a bit, but they still have a solid advantage in that area. Those yards add up and mean more in lower scoring games, as this one should be. My math model only favors Georgia State by 3.6 points and the Panthers apply to a 32-72-1 ATS bowl situation that applies to teams on a spread win streak. Ball State, meanwhile, applies to a 52-22 ATS situation that plays on teams that had to win their final regular season game to earn the right to play in a bowl. Such teams tend to savor the bowl experience more and are 2-0 ATS so far this season with Middle Tennessee upsetting Toledo and Tulsa covering against Old Dominion in a 13-point win. That situation is 15-2 ATS if the opposing team is a on a straight up and spread win streak and the line move backing the hot Georgia State team is a gift in my opinion.

Nevada vs
Western Mich

Mon, Dec 27 8:00 AM PT

Rotation: 233, Odds: Western Mich -6.5, Total: 56

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Western Michigan (-6.5/-7)  32   Nevada  23

I have algorithms that give me a baseline to determine the value of players, but I had to dig deep into my tool bag to figure out how much all the offensive defections on Nevada were worth. The Wolf Pack will be without two-time MWC Offensive Player of the Year QB Carson Strong along with most of his receivers and their top tackler on defense. After crunching the numbers, I came pretty close to the market reaction to all the defections, which also include head coach Norvell and a lot of his assistants.

Nevada’s offense was only 0.4 yards per pass play better than average with Strong and his receiving corps intact and I think they’ll be more than yard per play worse than average given that the rushing attack is bad (4.5 yards per rushing play against teams that would allow 5.1 yprp to an average team) and the pass attack, which is only +0.3 yppp with Strong, will be about 2 yppp worse than average without their star QB and a strong set of receivers that have moved on – although future NFL receiver Romeo Doubs has given no official word yet on his status (I’ll assume he won’t play either).

I started the adjustment by using Nevada’s pass rating in Strong’s first season and the season before that, which I figure is a good estimation of the backup quarterback with no starting experience and then I adjusted for the absence of the top 5 wide-receivers and the NFL-bound tight end that caught 62 passes. Nevada goes from being a good offensive team to likely being a horrible offensive team.

Western Michigan was 0.6 yards per play worse than average overall this season, rating at 0.5 yprp worse than average defending the run and 0.9 yppp worse than average against the pass. I project 304 yards at 5.0 yppl for Nevada in this game but there is obviously a lot of variance in that projection.

Western Michigan’s offense has been 0.2 yppl better than average with quarterback Kaleb Eleby continuing his career trend of avoiding mistakes (just 5 interceptions on 350 passes). The Broncos are really good at moving the chains and controlling the ball, as they averaged 35.5 minutes of possession per game. Nevada’s defense was 0.2 yppl worse than average in the regular season and they’ll be a bit worse without leading tackler Daiyan Henley, who has left the program. Henley’s 8 passes defended (4 of them interceptions) led the team from a linebacker position, which is impressive. Western Michigan is projected to gain 477 yards at 6.5 yppl in this game.

The issue for the Broncos is their horrible special teams, but I still favor them by 9.7 points.

Boston College @
East Carolina

Mon, Dec 27 11:30 AM PT

Rotation: 235, Odds: East Carolina PK, Total:

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Note: This game has been canceled.

Lean – East Carolina (+3)  28   Boston College  27

There’s not much difference between these teams and I think the only reason that Boston College is favored by a field goal is because the market thinks that the Eagles offense is significantly better with Phil Jurkovec at quarterback, which I don’t think is the case.

Jurkovec was only 0.1 yards per pass play in 2020 (6.5 yppp against teams that would allow 6.4 yppp to an average QB) and this season’s 7.5 yppp against FBS teams were against teams that would combine to allow 7.0 yppp to an average QB and was skewed by averaging 15.5 yppp in one game against Georgia Tech. The 17.0 yards per completion by Jurkovec in 5 starts against FBS teams this season is not sustainable (his average in 257 completions with BC is 13.4 ypc) and his 50.0% completions against FBS teams this season is not good. In fairness, Jurkovec rarely had the services of star TE Trae Berry, who was banged up late in the regular season when Jurkovec returned but is healthy for this bowl game. Barry averaged 10.1 yards per target, so he’ll certainly help the pass attack. However, I still have the Eagles’ pass attack rated at 0.1 yppp worse than average (-0.4 yppp for the season) and the Eagles’ rush attack is 0.1 yprp worse than average. I project BC’s slightly worse than average offense to gain 389 yards at 6.4 yards per play against an East Carolina defense that’s 0.7 yppl worse than average.

The East Carolina offense tends to control the ball (32.9 minutes of possession per game) and they averaged 428 yards per game at 5.7 yppl (against teams that would allow 5.7 yppl). The Pirates’ mediocre offense should move the ball just fine against a mediocre Boston College defense that’s allowed 5.7 yppl against FBS teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average stop unit. I project 410 yards at 5.9 yppl for ECU.

These teams are very evenly matched from the line of scrimmage and ECU has a 0.7 points advantage in special teams, which is how much the math favors the Pirates overall. I’ll lean with East Carolina at +3 at -115 odds or better.

Houston vs
Auburn

Tue, Dec 28 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 237, Odds: Auburn -2.5, Total: 51.5

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Auburn (-2.5)  25   Houston  23

Auburn will be without their starting quarterback, a pair of starting offensive linemen, and their best two defensive players while Houston will be without their All-American cornerback/kick-punt returner. The defections hurt Auburn more than they hurt Houston, but the line has adjusted properly.

Auburn’s offense will be led by quarterback T.J. Finley, who is certainly a downgrade from Bo Nix, who got a lot of criticism from Auburn fans but was actually a good quarterback given his better than average yards per pass play number (0.7 yppp better than average), very low interception rate (just 3 interceptions on 323 passes this season and just 16 total in 3 seasons as the starter), and good running (282 yards on 44 runs). Finley is not an accomplished passer, as he’s completed just 56.7% of his 231 career passes (just 56% this season) while rating at 0.2 yppp worse than average in his career (worse in two starts this season). Finley also appears to be a downgrade to Nix in the rushing department, as he’s averaged only 3.7 yards on 31 career runs.

The Tigers’ aerial attack takes a significant and Auburn’s rushing attack should also be worse without the running of Bo Nix and two starting offensive linemen. Top runner Tank Bigsby, who decided to transfer and then came back, averaged only 4.5 ypr in games against FBS teams and just 4.2 ypr if you also exclude the week 1 game against a horrendous Akron run defense. Backup tailback Jarquez Hunter averaged 5.6 ypr against FBS teams and 4.8 ypr also excluding Akron, so he would be an upgrade over Bigsby, who is back at the top of the depth chart. I project Auburn to run for 5.0 ypr against a mediocre Houston run defense and for Finley to average only 5.5 yards per pass play even after accounting for the absence of Houston’s first-team All-American CB Marcus Jones, who defended 18 passes (including 5 interceptions).

Houston’s offense is just 0.1 yards per pass play better than average (6.1 yppl against teams that would allow 6.0 yppl to an average team) and Auburn’s defense was 0.6 yppl better than average in the regular season. However, the absence of stars LB Zakoby McClain (leading tackler and 6 passes defended) and first-team All-American CB Roger McCreary (16 passes defended) hurt the defense, as those two key defenders project to be worth a combined 2.8 points. The Cougars are projected to gain 365 yards at 5.4 yppl, which takes the expected bad weather (12 mph winds and 25% chance of rain) into account.

Jones’ absence from Houston is also a major blow to their special teams, as Jones had 4 return touchdowns this season while averaging 34.0 yards per kick return and 14.4 yards per punt return. Auburn has very good coverage teams and should be able to contain Houston’s replacement for Jones.

Overall, my math favors Auburn by 1.2 points with a total of 48.2 points.

Air Force vs
Louisville

Tue, Dec 28 12:15 PM PT

Rotation: 239, Odds: Louisville -1.5, Total: 55

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Strong Opinion – Under (55) – Air Force (+1.5)  26   Louisville  25

Air Force plays at a very slow pace with their option offense, averaging just 1.92 plays per minute of possession while averaging 36.7 minutes of possession in regulation. Louisville plays a slower than average pace (2.15 plays per minute) so there aren’t likely to be enough plays in this game to get these teams to 55 points (the national average is 54 points) even with the math projecting a better than average 6.2 yards per play.

Air Force is an average offensive team from a compensated yards per play perspective, averaging 6.0 yppl against teams that would allow 6.0 yppl, but they’re actually better than average because they convert a lot of 4th down plays to extend drives (31 of 40 on converting on 4th-down). The also rate a bit higher in this game because I’ve taken out their games against Army and Navy, as option teams defend options teams better than non-option teams do. The Falcons’ attack rates at +0.2 yppl when excluding the Army and Navy games.

Louisville has a decent run defense (5.4 yards per rushing play against teams that would average 5.5 yprp) and rate at 0.1 yppl better than average overall, which is a bit better than the defensive units that Air Force faced this season. The Falcons are projected to gain 408 yards at 5.9 yppl.

Louisville’s offense averaged 6.8 yppl against teams that would allow 5.6 yppl to an average team. Despite being that good offensively on a yards per play basis the Cardinals only averaged 31.9 points per game even with the 62 points outlier they scored against Duke late in the season. The 11.4 yards per play skewed their average up and has been adjusted for in my model, but I still rate the Cardinals at 1.1 yppl better than average offensively. The absence of wide-receivers Jordan Watkins and Justin Marshall is actually not that big of an issue, as those two along with Braden Smith, who has been out since week 5, have combined for 8.4 yards per target while all wide-receivers on the team have combined for 9.2 YPT.

The Air Force defense yielded just 5.1 yppl this season and rates at 0.2 yppl better than average, even after taking out their games against fellow option teams. The Falcons allowed just 17.2 points per game (in regulation) this season (18.3 ppg to non-opinion teams) mostly because they don’t let the opposing team have the ball much. The Falcons’ opponents averaged only 55 plays per game in regulation and Louisville plays at a slower pace than normal and are projected to run just 52 plays in this game. The 6.6 yards per play that I project for Louisville is expected to result in just 340 total yards, which is significantly below the 455 total yards that they’ve averaged this season and the Cardinal are projected score just 25 points in this game.

Both teams should move the ball pretty well, but the number of possessions will be much lower than in a normal game and it’s going to be hard to get to 55 points, which is a very key number, given that 4.0% of games with a total near 55 points land on 55 points. Even if the fair total on this game were 54.0 points this game would be a profitable wager. I think the true line is lower than 54 points and there is solid value on going under 55 points in a low possession game. The Under is a Strong Opinion at Under 55 -115 odds or better.