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

Notre Dame vs
Alabama

Fri, Jan 1 1:00 PM PT

Rotation: 331, Odds: Alabama -19.5, Total: 65.5

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Alabama (-19.5)  41  Notre Dame  23

Notre Dame played their worst game of the season in the ACC Championship game against Clemson, which appears to have inflated this line by a couple of points. Just a few weeks before that the Irish dominated a very good North Carolina team 31-17 while outgaining the Tarheels by 182 yards – and they also beat Clemson in their regular season meeting. The Tigers were not 100% on either side of the ball for that first game but it was still an impressive performance by the Irish against an elite team.

The Irish are a good team, rating at 0.8 yards per play better than average on offense, 0.7 yppl better than average defensively and solid in special teams, but they are not an elite team and are likely to suffer another huge loss in a major bowl/playoff game.

Alabama has the best offense in the nation, averaging 49.7 points per game and rating at 2.6 yppl better than average offensively. That rating was adjusted down 0.4 yppl for the absence of superstar WR Jaylen Waddle, who averaged an amazing 19.2 yards per target (not per reception, per target!) before getting injured. That Crimson Tide defense was 1.2 yppl better than average for the season but had two games in which they gave up an average of 47 points and 7.6 yppl to elite offensive teams Mississippi and Florida. It’s possible that Notre Dame could have success offensively given that Alabama was relatively worse against better offensive teams.

The math shows some value on Notre Dame but not enough to play it, especially given how poorly the Irish have performed in major post-season games.

Ohio St. vs
Clemson

Fri, Jan 1 5:00 PM PT

Rotation: 333, Odds: Clemson -7, Total: 66.5

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Clemson (-7.5)  40   Ohio State  31

Lean – Over (66.5)

Ohio State’s offense rates as the second-best attack in the nation behind Alabama, as the Buckeyes have been consistently great – averaging 7.0 yards per play or more in all 6 of their games and 7.5 yppl overall (against teams that would allow 5.0 yppl to an average FBS offense). The Buckeyes even managed to gain 520 yards at 7.3 yppl against an elite Northwestern defense in the Big 10 Championship game with quarterback Justin Fields playing with an injured thumb (he averaged only 2.8 yards per pass play). The rushing attack was unstoppable with Trey Sermon taking over the lead running back spot and rushing for 331 yards on 29 carries after starter Master Teague left the game early with an undisclosed injury. Sermon has averaged 8.0 ypr this season and 6.5 ypr for his career (formerly at Oklahoma before this season) and he’s certainly an upgrade over Teague, who averaged a mediocre 5.0 ypr this season. I don’t expect Sermon to continue to average 8.0 ypr but I also raised Fields’ passing numbers to account for his extremely negative outlier with the injured thumb, which he says is not going to hinder him in this game (although he could be lying).

Clemson’s defense was 1.2 yards per play better than average for the season but they were also missing key players for a stretch of games and the Tigers have shown how good they can be when fully healthy, as they have allowed an average of just 12.3 points in their last 3 games against Pitt, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. I rate the Tigers’ defense at 1.6 yppl better than average with LB Skalski, DT Davis, and LB Jones all back healthy and project Ohio State with 468 yards at 6.9 yppl in perfect dome conditions.

Clemson’s offense was 1.5 yppl better than average with starters in the game this season (including the two starts by QB Uiagalelei), but the Tigers are better than that in competitive games, as star Travis Etienne gets all the running back carries until the game is decided and quarterback Trevor Lawrence runs the ball more in games in which he needs to run the ball more. We saw that against Notre Dame, when he ran for 96 yards on 12 runs and he ran for 192 yards on 21 runs in last year’s two playoff games (after averaging just 5 runs per game prior to that). With Lawrence averaging 7.0 yards per run and running more, and Etienne taking carries away from Clemson’s sub-par group of backup running backs, the Tigers’ rushing numbers should be about 0.5 yprp better than their season rating and Lawrence (2.4 yards per pass play better than average) playing the entire game adds to Clemson’s pass rating, as the backup quarterbacks combined for just 224 yards on 63 pass plays – excluding Uiagalelei’s two starts when he was playing with the first team receivers.

I rate Clemson’s offense at 1.9 yppl better than average and that unit should have their way with an Ohio State defense that has allowed 5.6 yppl and rates at just 0.3 yppl better than average. I project 532 yards at 7.7 yppl for Clemson in this game.

Clemson has a clear advantage from the line of scrimmage and the Tigers have better special teams, which is an area in which the Buckeyes have struggled this season (the difference in place-kicking alone is 1.5 points per game). I realize that Ohio State is 7-1 straight up in their last 8 games as an underdog and 15-3 ATS in their last 18 games when getting points, but the Buckeyes’ most recent game as an underdog was a spread loss to this Clemson team in last year’s playoffs and the Tigers are now 15-3 ATS in post-season games since the 2012 season. There’s not enough value to play the side in this game but I will lean with the Over at 68 or less.

No Carolina St. vs
Kentucky

Sat, Jan 2 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 491, Odds: Kentucky -2.5, Total: 51.5

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Strong Opinion – Under (51.5) – Kentucky (-2.5)  23   NC State  21

Kentucky’s games averaged just 46.8 points in regulation this season and a total higher than that doesn’t make sense given NC State plays at an average pace, has an offense that is slightly below average and a defense that is better than average. That Wolfpack defense is particularly good defending the run, which matches up well with Kentucky’s run-oriented attack.

Kentucky’s offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Terry Wilson, who ran for 497 yards at 5.6 yards per run but averaged just 5.5 yards per pass play for an offense that managed just 5.4 yppl and 21.1 points per game in regulation (against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average FBS offense). The key for Kentucky is facing a team that can’t stop their rushing attack, as the Wildcats averaged 40 points on 503 yards per game at 7.6 yards per play against the 3 worse than average run defenses that they faced (Ole’ Miss, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina) while averaging only 13.9 points and 250 total yards at 4.3 yppl against teams that were average or better defending the run. Those 7 teams would allow 4.9 yppl to an average team so the Wildcats were 0.6 yppl worse than average offensively against teams that weren’t worse than average defending the run, which is 0.5 yppl worse than their overall rating that was skewed upwards by those 3 dominating games against bad defenses.

NC State has a good run defense that’s yielded just 4.9 yards per rushing play to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yprp against an average defensive team, and the Wolfpack are better than average overall defensively (5.5 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.7 yppl against an average defense – adjusted for facing backup quarterbacks against Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Florida State).

I don’t expect Kentucky’s offense to move the ball consistently, but the Wildcats’ defense should be good enough to keep NC State’s mediocre attack in check. The Wolfpack averaged 5.8 yppl against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average FBS offense but they’re 0.2 yppl worse with Bailey Hockman at quarterback, as his numbers (6.5 yppp against teams that would allow 6.5 yppp to an average QB) weren’t nearly as good as those of Devin Leary (7.1 yppp against teams that would allow 6.2 yppp), who ignited the offense early in the season before getting injured.

Kentucky only allowed 25.7 points per game in regulation and their defense is 0.8 yppl better than average (5.6 yppl against teams that would average 6.4 yppl against an average defense). Only allowed 25.7 points per game is impressive given that they gave up 63 points in one game to Alabama and the Wildcats allowed just 17.9 points per game in 7 games excluding elite offenses Ole’ Miss, Alabama, and Florida, who all rank among the top 8 offenses in the nation. Those 7 non-elite offenses that Kentucky allowed just 17.9 points per game to have a slightly better compensated yards per play rating than NC State does so limiting the Wolfpack to under 20 points wouldn’t be out of the norm.

My math projects just 45.8 total points and scoring could be even lower given how bad Kentucky’s offense was against mediocre or better defensive teams and how good their defense was against non-elite offenses. Kentucky played 5 games against teams that were average or better defending the run and not elite offensively and the average total points in those games was just 31.2 points. This game isn’t likely to be that low scoring but it is likely to be below 50 total points. The Under is a Strong Opinion at 50 points or higher.

Mississippi vs
Indiana

Sat, Jan 2 9:30 AM PT

Rotation: 493, Odds: Indiana -9, Total: 66.5

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Lean – Under (66.5) – Indiana (-9)  35   Mississippi  26

Mississippi will be without their 3 top pass-catchers and top running back, as Elijah Moore, Braylon Sanders, and TE Kenny Yeboah have all opted-out while RB Jerrion Ealy is injured and likely won’t play. The 3 receivers are a huge blow to a potent offense (40.7 ppg and 7.1 yppl), as they combined for 2093 receiving yards at a ridiculous 13.2 yards per target. Only two Rebels’ receivers remain that caught more than 1 pass and Jonathan Mingo and Dontario Drummond combined for a more modest 8.9 yards on 74 targets. Two offensive linemen are also reportedly out for Ole’ Miss and the overall damage to the offense is calculated at 8.5 points based on my math (even if the linemen play).

Indiana will be without injured starting quarterback Michael Penix but backup Jack Tuttle has done a workmanlike job in his place, completing 67% of his mostly short passes (18 of 27 and 8.9 yards per completion) against good pass defenses (5 passes against Maryland and 22 against Wisconsin) while throwing zero interceptions. Indiana will likely be content to have Tuttle continue with the ball-control passing game while hoping that their horrible rushing attack (3.5 yards per rushing play against teams that would allow 5.0 yprp to an average team) can do enough against Mississippi’s bad run defense (0.7 yprp worse than average) to give Tuttle manageable third-down distances to work with. Indiana threw the ball 55% of the time with Penix at quarterback but they ran it 55% of the time against Wisconsin, despite averaging only 3.3 yprp against a really good run defense. I suspect the Hoosieers will continue to run the ball more than normal against Mississippi, which would slow the pace of the game in addition to lowering the Hoosiers’ projected yards per play (projected to average 4.2 yprp and 8.0 yppp). I have Indiana throwing the ball just as much as they run it (rather than 55% runs as in Tuttle’s other start) but that would still slow the projected pace some and lower the Hoosiers’ yards per play.

Mississippi may also slow their normally fast pace with all the new starters, although I will assume that they do not. The math favors the Under in this game even without a slower pace by the Rebels. The math also only favors Indiana by 6 ½ points but Ole’ Miss coach Lane Kiffin says there are a couple of other players that may sit out so I’ll assume the line is fair concerning the side. I’ll lean Under.

Oregon vs
Iowa St.

Sat, Jan 2 1:00 PM PT

Rotation: 495, Odds: Iowa St. -4.5, Total: 58

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Lean – Iowa State (-4.5)  35   Oregon  27

Oregon managed to win the Pac-12 Championship by getting in the game by default when Washington couldn’t play due to a Covid outbreak. The Ducks took advantage and beat an overrated USC team 31-24 but they were outplayed in that game 255 yards at 4.3 yards per play to 358 yards at 4.4 yppl – winning due to a +2 turnover margin. Iowa State, meanwhile, outplayed an elite Oklahoma team from the line of scrimmage by 41 total yards (6.1 to 6.2 yppl) and lost due to an uncharacteristic -3 in turnovers (just 11 offensive turnovers in 10 previous games).

Iowa State is a better team, as the Cyclones rate at 1.2 yards per play better than average offensively (6.5 yppl against teams that would allow 5.3 yppl) and 0.7 yppl better than average defensively (5.3 yppl allowed to teams that would average 6.0 yppl) while Oregon’s offense is 1.2 yppl better than average offensively (6.8 yppl against teams that would allow 5.6 yppl), which is the same as ISU, while the Ducks’ defense has only been 0.3 yppl better than average (5.6 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.9 yppl – adjusted for facing UCLA’s backup QB).

Oregon played two good defensive teams this season (Cal and USC) and the Ducks averaged just 24 points and 5.2 yppl in those games, although my math projects 396 yards at 6.4 yppl in perfect indoor conditions. ISU is projected to control the ball (+9 play differential) and tally 489 yards at 6.9 yppl. I’ll lean with Iowa State at -5.5 or less.

Texas A&M vs
North Carolina

Sat, Jan 2 5:00 PM PT

Rotation: 497, Odds: North Carolina +7.5, Total: 67.5

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Best Bet – *Under (67.5) – Texas A&M (-7.5)  34   North Carolina  25

My math model would have clearly leaned under in this game even without the absence of North Carolina’s 3 big play opt outs on offense and the market has not only not adjusted enough for those absences but also hasn’t taken into account how slow paced this game is likely to be.

Texas A&M runs their offense at a very deliberate tempo, averaging just 1.93 plays per minute of possession (excluding kneel downs and quarterback spikes) while averaging 34.9 minutes of possession per game. That’s a lot of slow offense being run, which will limit the number of possessions that North Carolina’s offense will have in this game. North Carolina is a high scoring team (42.4 points per game) but the Tarheels actually run their offense at a slightly slower than average 2.26 plays per minute and UNC will be without 3 big play performers, as star running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, and top receiver Dyami Brown, have all left the team to prepare for the NFL combine.

Carter and Williams combined for 2385 rushing yards at 7.6 yards per rush and backup RB D.J. Jones is also out with an injury. That leaves 3 inexperienced backs that have combined for 147 yards on 31 runs (4.7 ypr) this season. I assume that running behind the starting offensive line, which obviously has been very good, will allow those backs to perform better than their combined 4.7 ypr and I will assume that those backs would have averaged 6.1 ypr if they were playing with the starters all season, although I think it’s likely to be lower than that. I also assumed that North Carolina will throw the ball more often without their two star running backs to lean on, which will help their offense overcome some of the loss. However, not having Brown, who had 1099 receiving yards at an elite 13.1 yards per target, is a significant blow to a very good aerial attack. The rest of the wide receivers, excluding Beau Corrales, who averaged 11.9 YPT and also won’t play, combined for 10.0 yards per target, which is still very good, but the difference equates to 0.8 yards per pass play, which is a bit more than 2 points per game. The absence of two elite running backs is worth about 3 points, even if I assume that the inexperienced remaining backs would have averaged 6.1 ypr this season in their place, which is likely too high. The total loss on offense of those 3 players isn’t worth 5 points in terms of the side, as North Carolina should have more plays than the model would otherwise project with less big plays likely.

North Carolina’s offense has been among the best in the nation on a compensated yards per play basis (8.0 yppl against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average team) but I rate that attack as 0.9 yppl worse without their 3 big play weapons – although still a very good +1.3 yppl. Texas A&M has been 0.9 yppl better than average defensively this season, so the Tarheels should still have an advantage moving the ball and I project 6.1 yppl for UNC in this game. However, Texas A&M’s extremely slow pace will limit North Carolina’s possessions and I project just 60 plays for the Heels in this game (A&M’s average plays allowed is just 58.4 plays) – for 366 total yards.

North Carolina isn’t likely to have one of those huge rushing games without Williams and Carter (4 times they range for over 300 yards at 7.0 yprp or higher) and quarterback Sam Howell isn’t likely to average 10.0 yards per pass play or more, which he did on 4 occasions, without Brown’s big pass plays, as Brown averaged 164 receiving yards and 25.2 yards per reception in those 4 games. In the 4 games this season in which North Carolina didn’t rush for 7.0 yprp or more or average 10.0 yppp or more they averaged a modest 25.5 points, which is about what I expect from them in this game.

Texas A&M has an efficient offense that averaged 6.5 yards per play (against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) but the Aggies averaged only 31.7 points per game because of their slow pace of play and lack of big plays – the Aggies’ longest pass play was 52 yards, and that was from a rarely used running back that had just 3 receptions all season, and their longest run was just 57 yards. North Carolina was only average defensively this season (5.8 yppl allowed to offenses that would combine to average 5.8 yppl against an average team) and they’re projected to be about 0.3 yppl worse without star LB Chazz Surratt, who led the team in tackles and sacks but left the team to prepare for the NFL draft. His loss is not nearly as meaningful as the Tarheels’ losses on offense but Texas A&M should take advantage of a now worse than average UNC defense and I project 463 yards at 7.0 yppl for the Aggies in this game.

Both teams should move the ball pretty well (6.6 yppl combined is projected) but Texas A&M only averaged a combined 125.9 plays from scrimmage per game and I project 126.3 total plays in this game against a UNC team that I think is perceived to have a fast paced offense because they’re so explosive (although less so now) but actually run their attack at a slightly slower than average tempo. Despite their explosive offense and mediocre defense North Carolina’s games only reached 60 total points or more in 6 of 10 games while Texas A&M games only exceeded 51 points 3 times in 9 games. A&M did allow 52 points to Alabama and 38 points to Florida (which is actually good against a team that averaged 50 points per game) but North Carolina without their 3 stars is not as good offensively as those teams.

A compensated total points model would have projected just 64.5 total points even before adjusting for all the offensive talent that North Carolina lost and I project just 59 total points (60.5 using an adjusted points model) in this game assuming neutral weather (which is expected as of Monday morning).

The Under is a 1-Star Best Bet at 66 points or higher and the Under would be a Strong Opinion down to 65 points.

Ohio St. vs
Alabama

Mon, Jan 11 5:00 PM PT

Rotation: 499, Odds: Alabama -8, Total: 75

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