This season, Free Analysis sides were 287-273-8 overall and 99-81-2 on games with a difference or 4+ points from the spread. Totals are just 284-277-1 but they’re a profitable 37-29 on differences of 6 points or more from the line.

 

The record on all Free Analysis sides is now 1626-1431-62 ATS since 2013, which is very good picking nearly every game over 5 years. The Free Analysis sides in which my predicted margin was 4 points or more away from the line are now 569-473-22. Totals on the Free pages are now 1347-1294-16 in the 4-plus seasons I’ve been tracking them.

 

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

Bowl Best Bets were 8-3 and I am now 52-35-2 on my Best Bets (75-49-3 on a Star Basis) and 22-18 on my Strong Opinions this season.

College Bowl Games

Purdue vs
Auburn

Fri, Dec 28 10:30 AM

Odds: Auburn -3.5, Total: 55

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Auburn (-3.5)  28   Purdue  26

Rotation #241 – Friday, 10:30 am Pacific

It’s been a disappointing season for Auburn, starting the season in the Top-10 and entering this lower-tier bowl game with a 7-5 record. Four of those 5 losses were to very good teams (LSU, Miss State, Georgia, and Alabama) but Purdue is capable of an upset, as the Boilermakers proved with their 49-20 win over Ohio State. Purdue is just 6-6 but 4 of their losses were by 4 points or less to bowl teams and they’re 6-3 since starting the season with 3 losses.

The most interesting battle in this game will be Purdue’s good offense (6.4 yards per play against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) facing off against a very good Auburn defense that’s been an equally good 0.9 yppl better than average (5.5 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.4 yppl against an average defensive team). Not having top DL Nick Coe makes that Tigers’ stop unit worse, as Coe lead the team in sacks and was second in total tackles for loss with 13.5 despite missing basically two games. The math projects 407 yards at 5.8 yards per play for Purdue in this game.

Auburn’s offense was a major disappointment this season, as the rebuilt offensive line couldn’t open running lanes for the Tigers’ talented backs and didn’t give NFL-bound quarterback Jarrett Stidham enough time to look downfield, which led to just 11.6 yards per completion (Stidham averaged 12.8 ypa last season). Overall Auburn was just 0.1 yppl better than average offensively (5.3 yppl against teams that would allow 5.2 yppl to an average team) and Purdue’s defense was also 0.1 yppl better than average for the season (6.0 yppl allowed to teams that would average 6.1 yppl against an average team). I actually rate the Boilermakers’ defense a bit better than that with the return of senior S Jacob Thieneman, who was 2nd on the team in tackles before missing the final 3 games of the regular season. The run defense was horrible in their games that Thieneman missed (7.0 yprp allowed to teams that would average 5.9 yprp against an average team) and having their captain back should help. I project 402 yards at 5.6 yppl for Auburn in this game.

Purdue has a slight edge in projected yardage but Auburn has an edge in special teams and projected turnovers and overall the math favors the Tigers by 2 points with a total of 53.6 points. I don’t see enough value to even have a lean in this game.

West Virginia vs
Syracuse

Fri, Dec 28 2:15 PM

Odds: Syracuse -2.5, Total: 66

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Syracuse (-2)  34   West Virginia  32

Rotation #243 – Friday, 2:15 pm Pacific

My math model would have favored West Virginia by 7 points in this game if West Virginia’s star quarterback Will Grier and top receiver Gary Jennings Jr. were playing but instead we have Jack Allison at quarterback without the team’s most explosive weapon. To adjust for Allison, who’s thrown just 10 passes (7.5 yards per pass play), I decided to use the rating of a typical first year quarterback under coach Dana Holgorsen, which is still good but not nearly as good as Grier was this season. Adjusting for Jennings was a matter of substituting the yards per target of the other wide receivers (9.1 ypt) in place of Jennings’ 73 targets at 12.6 ypt, which worked out to 0.6 yards per pass play. I project Allison at 6.4 yards per pass play in this game against a Syracuse pass defense that’s 0.5 yppp better than average, and the Mountaineers’ good ground attack is projected to average 5.9 yards per rushing play against a soft Orange defensive front that is worse than average defending the run. Overall the math projects 453 yards at 6.2 yppl for West Virginia in this game but there is a lot of variance in that projection given that my adjustment for Grier being out was a guestimate – although I am in line with the market on the side and total.

The Syracuse offense is only 0.1 yards per play better than average with Eric Dungey at quarterback but the Orange tend to run a lot of plays, which makes their attack solidly better than average (they averaged 38.8 points per game). West Virginia’s defense is only 0.1 yppl better than average (5.9 yppl allowed to teams that would average 6.0 yppl against an average team) and the math projects 459 yards at 5.8 yppl for Syracuse in this game.

Overall, West Virginia still has a slight edge from the line of scrimmage but Syracuse has excellent punt and coverage teams units and an incredibly good kicker (+1.3 points per game over an average kicker) and the math favors the Cuse by 2.5 points with a total of 65.7 points. Those are pretty close to the line and I have no opinion on this game.

Iowa St. vs
Washington St.

Fri, Dec 28 6:00 PM

Odds: Washington St. -2.5, Total: 57

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Washington State (-2.5)  33   Iowa State  26

Rotation #248 – Friday, 6 pm Pacific

Washington State has been underrated all season (9-2 ATS in FBS games) and the Cougars are eager to atone for their Apple Cup loss to Washington that cost them a chance at the Pac 12 title. That game was played in horrible weather conditions that greatly affected the Washington State pass attack (just 3.6 yards per pass play was 2.0 yppp lower than any other game this season for Gardner Minshew). Conditions will not be an issue in the Alamo Dome and I expect Minshew’s timing on those short passes to be back to normal. Washington State averages 53 pass plays per game and Minshew averaged 7.1 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.0 yppp to an average quarterback) with just 9 interceptions on 613 pass attempts. Iowa State has a good pass defense (0.6 yppp better than average) but the Cyclones are only 0.3 yppp better than the average defense that the Cougars faced and Minshew is projected to average 6.8 yppp with the offense generating 441 yards at 6.0 yards per play.

Iowa State’s offense improved dramatically in week 6 when freshman Brock Purdy took over the reins of the Cylcones’ attack. Purdue completed 66.3% of his passes and averaged 8.6 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.4 yppp to an average QB) and his compensated passing numbers are still 1.1 yppp better than the team average even though he played in 8 games (that tells you how bad the other two quarterbacks were). Purdy is also the team’s #2 rusher and the rush attack ticked up with him at quarterback. Overall, the Iowa State attack was 0.5 yards per play better than average with Purdy at quarterback and they have a slight advantage over a Washington State defense that’s been 0.4 yppl better than average this season (5.5 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.9 yppl to an average team). Iowa State is also projected to average 6.0 yppl but on about 12 fewer plays than Washington State will run.

The math model favors Washington State by 4 points with a total of 59 points and the Cougars apply to a 55-17-2 ATS bowl situation. I’ll lean with Washington State in this game.

Florida vs
Michigan

Sat, Dec 29 9:00 AM

Odds: Michigan -6, Total: 51

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Michigan (-6)  29   Florida  22

Saturday, 9 am Pacific

Michigan will be down 4 starters in this game but only one really makes a difference. Running back Karan Higdon, linebacker Devin Bush, defensive linemen Rashan Gary have all quit on their team to selfishly prepare for the NFL draft and and offensive right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who has missed most of the last two games is not ready to play and will also miss this game. Losing Higdon is not an issue given that his mediocre 5.3 yards per rush average is lower than the combined 5.7 ypr average of Chris Evans and Tru Wilson. Gary missed 3 games earlier in the season (weeks 6 through 8) and Michigan’s compensated defensive numbers in those 3 games was actually better than their season rating, so I’ll assume he makes no difference. Devin Bush, however, is the Wolverines’ leading tackler, ranks second on the team in tackles for loss with 9 and broke up 6 passes, which is good for a linebacker. The 1st-Team All-American is projected to be a first-round NFL draft pick, so his absence should have an impact – although linebackers in general are not as important as the other position groups on defense. I’ve adjusted the maximum amount for a linebacker, which works out to a bit less than 1 point, but Michigan still has a very strong defense that rated at 1.5 yards per play better than average in the regular season despite giving up 8.8 yards per play to Ohio State. Florida’s offense made incredible strides this season and averaged 6.2 yards per play against teams that would allow just 5.1 yppl to an average attack. Michigan’s defense without Bush makes this a pretty fair fight and I project 312 yards at 5.6 yppl for the Gators.

Michigan’s offense doesn’t get a lot of love but the Wolverines are very efficient when they have the ball, averaging 6.3 yppl against teams that would allow 5.4 yppl to an average team. Florida’s defense is just as good however, as the Gators yielded 5.4 yppl to teams that would combine to average 6.3 yppl against an average stop unit. The math projects 5.7 yards per play and 393 yards for the Wolverines.

While the yards per play projections are pretty close (5.74 to 5.59 yppl) Michigan is projected to run considerably more plays, which has been the case for Wolverines all season (+11.3 average play differential). Both squads are equally excellent in special teams and overall the math favors Michigan by 5.5 points with a total of 50.3 points after adding 2.4 points for playing a dome. Michigan does apply to a 47-17-4 ATS bounce-back situation that is based on their bad loss to Ohio State so I added a couple of points and will pick Michigan by 7 points. I still can’t even recommend a lean though.

South Carolina vs
Virginia

Sat, Dec 29 9:00 AM

Odds: Virginia +4.5, Total: 54

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South Carolina (-4.5)  29   Virginia  23

Saturday, 9 am Pacific

Virginia and coach Bronco Mendenhall had a breakthrough season but the 7-5 Cavaliers only beat one good team (16-13 over Miami). South Carolina is also 7-5 but all of their losses were to good teams (Georgia, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Florida, and Clemson) and the Gamecocks are clearly the better team in this match-up.

South Carolina’s offense averaged 6.4 yards per play in 10 FBS games with Jake Bentley at quarterback (he missed the Missouri game) while facing teams that would allow just 5.4 yppl to an average offensive unit. Top WR Deebo Samuel has decided to sit out rather than risk injury but his loss will probably be felt more on special teams than on offense. Samuel’s 9.1 yards per target average is not that much more than the 9.0 ypt average for the rest of the receivers and young star Shi Smith (10.7 ypt on 56 targets) figures to get more targets than he did as the #3 receiver during the season. That attack has an advantage over a Virginia defense that is 0.5 yppl better than average (5.4 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.9 yppl) and the Gamecocks are projected to collect close to 400 yards at 6.2 yards per play in this game.

Not having an advantage with their offense is troubling for a sub-par Virginia offense that averaged 5.9 yppl but did so against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average attack. South Carolina’s defense allowed 5.8 yppl but they faced teams that would combine to average 6.5 yppl against an average defensive team and the Gamecocks come into this game better than their season numbers on defense. Star linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams had 10 tackles for loss in just 8 games before missing the final 4 games and he’s eager to return to the field for this game after getting cleared to play (he was actually cleared to play in week 14 against Akron but chose to save himself for the bowl game). Future NFL cornerback, freshman Jaycee Horn missed the last two games and the pass defense wasn’t as good without him. Horn is also returning to the lineup for this game and South Carolina is 0.2 yppl better than their season numbers with those two back. I project just 340 yards at 4.7 yppl for Virginia in this game.

Overall the math favors South Carolina by 6.4 points even after deducting 0.5 points from the Gamecocks’ special teams rating for being without Samuel, who averaged 24.8 yards per kick return. The Gamecocks do apply to a 9-33 ATS bowl situation that will keep me from leaning with them here. The projected total is 52.0 points after adding 1.4 points for the good weather in Charlotte so there is a bit of value on the under – although not enough to get me to lean that way. I would lean under if the total got up to 55 points, which is a key number.

Arkansas St. vs
Nevada

Sat, Dec 29 10:15 AM

Odds: Nevada -1, Total: 60.5

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Lean – NEVADA (-1.5)  28   Arkansas State  24

Best Bet – Under (60.5): Now a Lean Under at current line.

Saturday, 10:15 am Pacific

I’ve won numerous Best Bets or Strong Opinion on Nevada going under the total and the Wolf Pack have gone under in 6 of their last 8 games (I didn’t have an under play on the two that went over). I really don’t know why the odds makers have continued to make the totals on Nevada games too high but I was happy to take the value with the Under (60.5) in this game for a 2-Star Best Bet. This game no longer qualifies as a Best Bet with the total now at 56.5 points but I still lean under even with very good weather expected.

Nevada averaged 29.6 points and 5.9 yards per play against FBS opponents this season but the Wolf Pack faced a schedule of teams that would allow 31.3 points and 6.3 yppl to an average team, and that attack is 0.3 yppl worse than average with starting quarterback Ty Gangi at quarterback (he missed the Fresno game). Arkansas State allowed 26.9 points and 5.9 yppl to teams that would combine to average 25.4 points and 5.5 yppl against an average defensive team so the battle between Nevada’s offense and the Red Wolves’ defense is a wash. The math model projects 398 total yards at 5.7 yards per play for Nevada.

Arkansas State averaged 30.3 points and 6.1 yppl this season against FBS teams that would allow 32.9 points and 6.2 yppl to an average opponent, so the Red Wolves are actually a bit below average offensively. Nevada, meanwhile, is a god defensive team that yielded just 5.3 yppl to a schedule of FBS teams that would combine to average 5.7 yppl against an average defense. The 28.9 points per game that Nevada allowed (against teams that would average 27.2 points) is skewed by the 63 points allowed in the Toledo game, which is a fluke given that 460 total yards does not equate to 63 points. Nevada’s median points allowed is 25 points, which is more in line with their yards per play numbers. Arkansas State is projected to gain 393 yards at just 5.3 yppl.

The projected yards (791) and yards per play (5.48) are both less than the national average and thus this game should be projected under the national average of 56.4 total points. Making this game even lower scoring is the special teams units, which all favor the defense. Arkansas State is a bit below average in average starting field position on kickoffs and their kickoff coverage team is excellent (1.7 yards better than average). The Red Wolves also have a great punt team (39.5 net yards) and a terrible punt return team (39.8 opponent’s net punt), which makes for worse field position for their offense and their opponent’s offense. Nevada, meanwhile, is below average in kickoff returns, better than average in kickoff coverage, and has a net punt average of 39.5 yards while their opponent’s net punting average is 40.0 yards. Those punt averages are higher because Nevada played a lot of games in high-altitude but I’ve adjusted for that and the punt numbers still favor the defenses.

The special teams yardage favoring the defenses is worth a couple of points and overall the math model projects just 52 total points in this game even with the good weather. The Under is now out of Best Bet and even Strong Opinion range but I’d still lean under 55 points or more.

The math only favors Nevada by ½ a point but the Wolf Pack apply to a 55-17 ATS bowl situation while Arkansas State applies to a 27-64 ATS bowl situation that plays against teams on a 3 game or more spread win streak. I’ll lean with Nevada at -2.5 or less.

Notre Dame vs
Clemson

Sat, Dec 29 1:00 PM

Odds: Clemson -12.5, Total: 56.5

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Lean – Notre Dame (+12.5)  24   Clemson  32

Saturday, 1 pm Pacific

Note Dame isn’t getting much love from the oddsmakers but the Irish are a legitimately great team and they caught a huge break with the suspension of Clemson All-American DT Dexter Lawrence, who demands a double-block on every play, which frees up the other Tigers’ linemen. ESPN reported that Clemson allows 1.3 more yards per rush when Lawrence is out of the lineup compared to when he’s in, which actually works out to 0.6 yards per rushing play more than their season rating, excluding garbage time (I’ve cut that adjustment a bit be conservative). Clemson is still an elite defensive team even without Lawrence, most likely, as the Tigers allowed just 4.0 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yppl against an average defensive team. I still rate Clemson’s defense at 1.5 yppl better than average without Lawrence but I may not be adjusting enough given what Wisconsin’s rushing attack did against Miami without their All-American DT Willis a few days ago. Notre Dame doesn’t run like Wisconsin but the Irish have a stud running back in Dexter Williams, who ran for 941 yards at 6.6 ypr despite missing the first 4 games. The Irish are also better throwing the ball than their season stats would suggest, as Ian Book only started 8 of Notre Dame’s 12 games and Book’s compensated yards per pass play rating of +1.8 yppp (8.2 yppp against teams that would allow 6.4 yppp to an average QB) was significantly better than original starter Brandon Wimbush, who was slightly below average. Notre Dame is 1.1 yards per play better than average with Williams and Book both playing and I project 364 yards at 5.0 yppl for the Irish in this game.

Clemson’s offense rated at 1.5 yards per play better than average with a dominating rushing attack (7.2 yprp against teams that would allow 5.1 yprp) and an efficient passer in freshman Trevor Lawrence, who was 1.0 yards per pass play better than average (7.3 yppp against teams that would allow 6.3 yppp) after taking over as the starter in week 5, which is actually the same as Clemson’s offensive pass rating for the entire season (Lawrence was much better coming off the bench the first 4 weeks of the season than he was as a starter).

Notre Dame’s defense is among the best in the nation defending the pass (4.5 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would combine to average 6.5 yppp against an average defense) and the Irish are 0.6 yprp better than average defending the run and did a very good job against the one elite rushing team that they faced (holding Pitt to 4.5 yprp, which is 1.0 yppp better than average). Clemson was relatively worse against better run defenses and their 1240 rushing yards at 11.4 yprp in 3 games against the sub-par run defenses of Wake Forest, Louisville, and Pitt skewed their rating upward. Clemson played 5 games against good run defenses (at least 0.5 yprp better than average) and the Tigers averaged just 151 rushing yards at 4.9 yprp in those games against Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, NC State, Florida State, and Boston College while rushing for 141 yards or less and 5.0 yprp or less in each of those games other than versus Georgia Tech. Those 5 teams would allow 4.3 yprp to an average team so Clemson was just 0.6 yprp better than average running against good run defenses, which is 1.5 yprp lower than their overall rating that was skewed by those big yardage games against worse than average run defenses. I’m not going to assume Clemson will be only 0.6 yprp better than average running the ball but using a regression equation to predict yards per rushing play as a function of the opposing run defense rating would yield a prediction of 6.15 yprp for Clemson in this game, which is 0.5 yprp less than what the model would predicted without adjusting for the outliers by using regression. I think that’s a more than reasonable adjustment but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Clemson ran for closer to 5 yprp than 6 yprp in this game.

My math favors Clemson by just 5.6 points but the Tigers have outplayed their math projections under coach Dabo Swinney so I’ll call for an 8 point margin. I certainly lean with Notre Dame here, and considered making the Irish a Strong Opnion, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Irish won this game straight up – which could happen if I’ve underestimated the affect of losing Dexter Lawrence, as I only adjusted 0.3 yprp rather than 0.6 yprp to be conservative.

Oklahoma vs
Alabama

Sat, Dec 29 5:00 PM

Odds: Alabama -14, Total: 77

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Lean – Oklahoma (+14)  36   Alabama  45

Saturday, 5 pm Pacific

A lot has been said about how bad Oklahoma’s defense is but that unit was actually average over the course of the season when excluding garbage time stats, as their starters allowed 5.9 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.9 yppl to an average team. I actually rate the Sooners’ defense a bit worse than that using only the 7 games since the change of defensive coordinators during the week 7 bye and Alabama will certainly be able to score a lot of points in this game with an attack that averaged 48 points per game and 8.0 yards per play against a schedule of teams that are collectively 0.3 yppl better than Oklahoma’s defense. My math model projects 595 yards at 8.4 yppl for the Crimson Tide in this game and they easily could score more than the 45 points my model projects.

The big question is how well Alabama’s elite defense (14.9 points and 4.4 yppl allowed to teams that would average 6.1 yppl) can defend perhaps the best offense in the history of College football – at least it’s the highest rated offense in my 31 years. The Sooners averaged 49.5 points and 9.0 yards per play this season (against teams that would allow 5.6 yppl to an average attack) and they’re 0.3 yppl better than that with Kyler Murray at quarterback and with freshman RB Kennedy Brooks getting more touches. Brooks only had 4 total runs in the Sooners’ first 4 games but he still leads the team in rushing with 1021 yards on just 113 runs, which is an incredible 9.0 yards per rush. Alabama is 1.2 yards per rushing play better than average defending the run but Oklahoma’s offensive line is better than Alabama’s defensive front and the math model projects 6.6 yards per rushing play for Oklahoma in this game. Murray, meanwhile, is projected to average 8.4 yards per pass play, which would be only 0.1 yppp better than his worst performance of the season (8.3 yppp against TCU).

Oklahoma is projected to gain 447 yards at 7.4 yppl and the Tide do have a significant advantage in projected yards (148). However, Oklahoma has elite special teams that rate nearly 2 points better than Alabama’s good special teams units and Nick Saban’s defense does have a history of playing relatively worse against quarterbacks that can run and throw the ball effectively.

Since 2008, when Alabama’s defense started to dominate, the Tide have played 152 games and they’ve allowed more than 31 points in only 10 of those games (1-9 ATS). Most of those bad defensive performances were against dual threat quarterbacks. In 2013 Alabama allowed 42 points to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M and 34 points in a loss to Cam Newton’s Auburn Tigers. That same year in the bowl game, Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight led the Sooners to a 45-31 win as a 16.5 point underdog. In 2014 dual-threat QB Nick Marshall led his Auburn team to 44 points (Bama managed to win that game) and later that season Ohio State beat Alabama 42-35 as a 9 point underdog with Cardale Jones at quarterback. Jones wasn’t as good of a runner as J.T. Barrett was but he ran the ball a lot against the Tide in that game. In 2015 it was Chad Kelly, who ran for 646 yards at 7.3 yprp that season, who beat Bama 43-37 during the regular season and later that season dual-threat superstar Deshaun Watson ran for 89 yards and threw for 391 more as Clemson nearly beat the Crimson Tide in the national championship game as a 6.5-point underdog. In 2016 it was Ole Miss and Chad Kelly putting up another 43 points against Alabama’s defense with his combination of running (62 yards) and passing (405 yards on 43 pass plays) and later that season Deshaun Watson and Clemson got their revenge in a 35-31 Championship game upset of the Tide in which Watson ran for 73 yards and threw for 395 yards.

Nick Saban is very good at defending one-dimensional quarterbacks, but quarterbacks that can run and throw effectively have given Saban fits. Alabama is going to be in the right defense most of the time but quarterbacks that can create with their feet can beat a well-designed and executed defensive play, which must drive Saban nuts. This season the only quarterback that was could both run and throw effectively to face the Alabama defense was Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, who ran for 129 yards on 11 runs but wasn’t a good enough passer to beat Bama – although the 5.5 yards per play by the Aggies in that game was the most of any team against the Tide defense other than Georgia, who gained 5.7 yppl. Mississippi State has a good running quarterback but Nick Fitzgerald is easy to defend because he’s a terrible passer. Kyler Murray is the best passer Bama has faced since Deshaun Watson beat them and Murray ran for 973 yards at 9.0 yards per run and he’ll run more if he needs to. So, while my math model projects a 10 point win by Alabama I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Oklahoma scored more points than projected given Alabama’s troubles with quarterbacks that can run and throw effectively. I like Oklahoma here.

Cincinnati vs
Virginia Tech

Mon, Dec 31 9:00 AM

Odds: Virginia Tech +6, Total: 53.5

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Strong Opinion – Cincinnati (-6)  33   Virginia Tech  21

A lot of people think that Virginia Tech is going to suddenly play better in this bowl game but I don’t see how a team that is among the worst in the nation defending the run and is without their top two defensive linemen is suddenly going to learn how to stop the run. And, if you can’t stop the run then beating a Cincinnati team that lives on the run offensively (43 runs per game at 5.6 yards per rushing play) and plays great defense (16.9 ppg) is going to be a challenge.

Virginia Tech dismissed their best defensive linemen Trevon Hill after just 3 games and more recently lost DL Houshun Gaines to an injury (in week 11). Hill had 3.5 sacks in just 3 games and Gaines is the only other player on the team with more than 2 sacks (4.5). The Hokies’ defensive line has been dominated all season long and it’s worse now that Gaines is out. Cincinnati is a run-oriented offense and the Bearcats have been very consistent running the ball, as they’ve gained 244 rushing yards or more at 5.3 yprp or more in 7 of their last 8 games with 3 good running backs and a quarterback that was their #2 rusher. Desmond Ridder is a below average passer (6.3 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 6.8 yppp to an average quarterback), but he won’t need to throw much in this game against a Virginia Tech defense that allowed an average of 230 rushing yards at 6.3 yprp to 11 FBS opponents that would combine to average 5.2 yprp against an average team. The Hokies were also 0.6 yards per pass play worse than average (6.9 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would average 6.3 yppp) and are worse now with nobody to rush the passer now that Gaines is out (just 4 team sacks in 3 games since his injury). My math projects 288 rushing yards at 6.5 yprp and 188 passing yards at 6.6 yppp for the Bearcats in this game.

Virginia Tech’s offense is pretty good, rating at +0.2 yppl for the season (5.7 yppl against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) and +0.4 yppl with current personnel but Cincinnati’s defense has allowed just 16.9 points per game and 4.7 yards per play (to teams that would average 5.8 yppl against an average team) this season. I do rate the Bearcats’ stop unit worse, at 0.9 yppl better than average) with All-Conference linebacker Perry Young out but that’s more than good enough to contain the Hokies, who I project to gain just 339 yards at 5.2 yppl in this game.

Overall the math favors Cincinnati by 13.5 points but Virginia Tech does apply to a 37-16 ATS bowl angle that plays on teams that had to win their final regular season win to qualify for a bowl game. I can understand the motivation in wanting to play hard in a bowl game that you fought to make but Cincinnati has had a chip on their shoulder the entire season and their only losses are to unbeaten UCF and on the road in overtime to Temple. I resisted making the Bearcats a Best Bet but I’ll consider Cincinnati a Strong Opinion at -7 points or less.

Stanford vs
Pittsburgh

Mon, Dec 31 11:00 AM

Odds: Pittsburgh +4.5, Total: 52

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Stanford (-4.5)  27   Pittsburgh  24

Pitt is a tough team to handicap, as they might be the more volatile team in the nation. The Panthers average spread decision in their 12 FBS games was 15.5 points from the line, as their 7 spread wins covered by an average of 14.9 points while their 5 spread losses to FBS teams were by an average of 16.3 points. You’d figure that a ground oriented team would be more consistent from game to game than a pass-heavy team but even Pitt’s rushing attack was highly variable – running for 8 yards per rushing play or more 4 times whiles averaging 4.7 yprp or less 6 times in 12 FBS games. Overall Pitt averaged 244 rushing yards at 6.4 yprp but it’s hard to know if they’re going to be great or worse than average in the running game in any given game. Stanford has a run defense that is 0.4 yprp better than average, and the Cardinal are 0.3 yards per pass play better than average, so they can certainly limit the Panthers’ running back if they’re having one of their down games. The math model projects 6.0 yprp, 5.4 yppp, and 356 yards at 5.8 yards per play for Pitt in this game but it could be much worse or much better than that.

Stanford’s offense will be without Bryce Love, who had an injury-plagued season and averaged just 4.5 yards per rush and the Cardinal don’t figure to be able to take advantage of a soft Panthers’ defensive front that allowed 6.0 yprp this season (although to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yprp against an average team). This game will likely be decided by how well K.J. Costello and star WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside perform against a good Pitt secondary that was 0.8 yards per pass play better than average this season (6.1 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would combine to average 6.9 yppp against an average defensive unit). Costello averaged 8.0 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow just 5.7 yppp to an average QB) and Pitt’s pass defense is only 0.2 yppp better than the average defense that the Cardinal faced this season. So, I expect Stanford to throw the ball well (7.8 yppp projected) and run at a decent clip (5.0 yprp) for a projected total of 360 yards at 6.5 yards per play.

Overall the math model favors Stanford by just 2 points, with a total of 51 points, but Pitt applies to a 15-49-3 ATS bowl situation and the Panthers higher than normal variance in performance makes whatever line value there might be less valuable. I’ll pass on this game.