The Free Analysis sides were 292-236-14 ATS this season, including 119-83-3 on sides with a predicted margin that was 4 points or more from the spread. The Totals were just 285-295-6, but they’re 61-52-1 on differences from the line of 6 points or more, which is historically where they are profitable.

 

The record on all Free Analysis sides is 1035-894-40 ATS since 2013, which is very good picking nearly every game over 4 years. The Free Analysis sides in which my predicted margin was 4 points or more away from the line are now 394-324-13 the last 4 years. Totals on the Free pages are now 772-742-10 in 3 seasons I’ve been tracking them.

Below is analysis of last year’s Bowl games so you can get an idea of how I analyze College Football games. Click on the Read More link to get the full analysis of that game. The View Matchup Stats link will show the analysis of that game along with the advanced matchup stats.

Top 25

Charlotte @
(19) Louisville

Thu, Sep 1 4:00 PM

Rotation: 136, Odds: Louisville -38.5, Total: 58.5

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LOUISVILLE (-38 ½)  51   Charlotte  9

Charlotte will be better than they were last season, which was really, really bad. However, Louisville can name the score in this game and the Cardinals will probably keep scoring even when they simply hand the ball off in the 2nd half, as Charlotte has a horrendous run defense. My ratings favor Louisville by 41 ½ points and Charlotte applies to a 15-45 ATS week 1 big road underdog situation that does not bode well for the 49ers tonight.

Kansas St. @
(8) Stanford

Fri, Sep 2 6:00 PM

Rotation: 151, Odds: Stanford -15, Total: 48

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STANFORD (-15)  26   Kansas State  15

The star at Stanford is obviously RB Christian McCaffrey, who broke the NCAA record for all-purpose yardage last season, but don’t underestimate the value of departed four year starting quarterback Kevin Hogan. Hogan’s stats didn’t get a lot of notice because he didn’t put up big passing numbers. But, big passing numbers is not the way to judge a quarterback. Passing efficiency is how to measure a quarterback and Hogan averaged 9.7 yards per pass play or more in 8 different games last season, including the final 3 victories over Notre Dame, USC, and Iowa in the Rose Bowl. McCaffrey was great but Stanford’s rushing attack was 0.5 yards per rushing play better than average last season (5.6 yprp against teams that would allow 5.0 yprp to an average team) while the Cardinal pass attack was 2.5 yards per pass play better than average (8.5 yppp against teams that would allow 6.0 yppp), which ranked among the best in the nation. New quarterback Ryan Burns will do a fine job, as the coaching staff will work in a lot of easy throws to McCaffrey and Bryce Love, who combined to catch 60 of 69 passes thrown to them last season for an average of 13.0 yards per attempt. Stanford also uses the tight ends a lot, which is comforting to inexperienced quarterbacks.

The challenge for Burns will be throwing the ball down the field to take advantage of single coverage against teams that will no doubt put an extra safety close to the line of scrimmage to defend McCaffrey. If Burns can’t burn opponents with play action passes down the field then the Stanford rushing attack won’t be as effective. Opponents respected Hogan too much to put an extra man in the box too often and Burns will have to earn that same respect for the Cardinal offense to be close to as good as it was last season. Stanford was 1.2 yards per play better than average offensively last season but they figure to regress a bit without Hogan (I rate that unit at +0.7 yppl heading into this season).

The Stanford defense, meanwhile, should improve after what for them was a down season. Last year’s Cardinal defense was inexperienced and lost a lot of talent from the dominating 2014 unit that was from an incredible 1.7 yppl better than average. Stanford’s defensive rating was 1.3 yppl worse in 2015 at just 0.4 yppl better than average (5.6 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average defensive team). This year’s edition should be closer to the strong 2012 and 2013 defenses, but not nearly as good as 2014, as I expect significant improvement defending both the run and the pass.

If these teams played last season my model would have favored Stanford by 18 points but the Wildcats have closed the gap after their string of four consecutive strong seasons ended in 2015 with a disappointing 6-7 campaign.  Kansas State was out gained by over 100 total yards per game and by 1.4 yards per play after 3 consecutive seasons in which they were between +1.5 yppl and +1.6 yppl better than average (compensated for opponents faced). I trust that veteran coach Bill Snyder will make the necessary changes to get his team back to the positive side of the yards per play ledger and my algorithms forecast significant improvement on both sides of the ball for the Wildcats.

Improving on last year’s pedestrian offense will be pretty easy with starting quarterback Jesse Ertz likely to be a considerable upgrade from backup Joe Hubener, who had to step in last season after Ertz was injured on the first series of the season. I don’t think Ertz will be nearly as efficient as recent quarterbacks Colin Klein and Jake Waters were (an average rating of 2.5 yppp better than average from 2012 to 2014), as those two were blessed with having stud WR Tyler Lockett to throw to. But, Ertz should be about a yard per pass play better than last year’s pathetic -0.8 yppp rating. The rushing attack figures to be about the same (0.4 yards per rushing play worse than average) but overall I expect the offense to go from being 0.6 yppl worse than average to just 0.1 yppl worse than average this season.

The Kansas State defense will also rebound after a rare bad performance in 2015. Kansas State’s defense actually wasn’t as bad as the 6.4 yppl allowed would indicate, as the Wildcats faced a schedule of teams that would combine to average 6.1 yppl against an average team. Seven starters return and JC transfers have been brought in to plug holes (as is the tradition under Snyder) and I expect a return to levels pretty close to the 2012 to 2014 editions of the K State defense. Those teams allowed between 22 and 23 points per game each of those seasons while rating at between 0.7 and 0.6 yppl better than average. I rate this year’s defense at 0.5 yppl better than average.

Kansas State figured to be a much improved team and my ratings favor Stanford by just 10 ½ points in this game. Part of that lower than expected projected margin is based on the slow pace of this game, as fewer than 120 plays are predicted (140 plays is average excluding kneel downs). The slower paced the game, the harder it is for a big favorite to extend the lead and both of these teams play at a really slow pace. I’ll lean with Kansas State plus the points and the Under.

Hawaii @
(7) Michigan

Sat, Sep 3 9:00 AM

Rotation: 155, Odds: Michigan -40, Total: 54.5

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MICHIGAN (-40)  44   Hawaii  9

Hawaii acquitted themselves well in their 31-51 loss to Cal in Australia last week, as that final margin was influenced by turnovers. Hawaii averaged 6.7 yards per play while Cal averaged 7.1 yppl. That doesn’t speak well of Hawaii’s defense, or it could be that the Bears’ new quarterback Davis Webb is not much of a drop off from Jared Goff in a system that breeds success for quarterbacks. Hawaii’s offense is bad, which I knew going into last week’s game but Michigan’s offense still may not score enough to cover such a big number.

Jim Harbaugh brought in another former starting quarterback from another school in John O’Korn, who was the starter at Houston before Greg Ward took his job away from him. Last season Michigan had a good pass attack with former Iowa starter Jack Rudock at quarterback, as Rudock was 1.4 yards per pass play better than average (7.2 yppp against teams that would allow 5.8 yppp to an average quarterback). That was an improvement of 1.1 yppp from his level of play at Iowa and perhaps we can expect O’Korn to improve just as much.

The problem is that O’Korn’s career stats are not nearly as good as Rudock’s resume before coming to Ann Arbor. O’Korn was average in 2013 as the starter (6.2 yppp against teams that would allow 6.2 yppp to an average quarterback) but he lost his job to Ward because of ineffectiveness in 2014, when he averaged only 4.1 yppp on 157 pass plays despite facing teams that would allow 6.9 yppp to an average QB. I’m not sure what was going on that year to result in such a drastic decline in performance but if O’Korn wins the job I’ll assume that’s because Harbaugh thinks he’s capable of doing a good job. I just don’t think it will be as good as the job Rudock did last season. There is nothing special about the rushing attack (4.7 yards per rushing play last season against teams that would allow 5.0 yprp) but I do expect improvement in that area this season. Still, Michigan doesn’t appear good enough to score enough points to cover the huge spread and the only reason I’m not more excited about taking Hawaii plus the points in my concern over their lack of rest after playing in Sydney last week. I’ll still favor Hawaii plus the points.

Miami Ohio @
(17) Iowa

Sat, Sep 3 12:30 PM

Rotation: 158, Odds: Iowa -27.5, Total: 51

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Iowa (-27 ½)  41   Miami-Ohio  10

My ratings favor Iowa by 28 ½ points and Miami-Ohio applies to a 15-46 ATS week 1 huge underdog situation.

Bowling Green @
(6) Ohio St.

Sat, Sep 3 9:00 AM

Rotation: 162, Odds: Ohio St. -28, Total: 66

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OHIO STATE (-28)  45   Bowling Green  13

Bowling Green is going to sorely miss graduated star quarterback Matt Johnson. Johnson led a potent attack in 2013 (6.5 yards per play) but was injured early in the 2014 season opener and the Falcons’ up-tempo attack was left in the hands of backup James Knapke. Johnson had been 0.8 yards per pass play better than average in 2013 but Knapke was 1.2 yppp worse than average in 2014 (5.9 yppp against teams that would allow 7.1 yppp to an average quarterback). Johnson returned last year and the Falcons’ attack took flight again with an aerial attack that was 1.3 yppp better than average (7.8 yppp against teams that would allow 6.5 yppp). With Johnson gone Knapke is back at the helm and the question is how far Bowling Green’s offensive efficiency will drop. Head coach Dino Babers has moved on but the up tempo spread attack will continue under new coach Mike Jinks, who spent his last few years at Texas Tech. Knapke is probably going to be better than he was in 2014 but better than horrible (-1.2 yppp in ‘14) is an incredibly steep drop from last year’s production and starting the season against a very good Ohio State pass defense should result in a long afternoon for Knapke in his return to the starter’s role.

My ratings project only 4.1 yards per play for Bowling Green in this game the Falcons’ solid defense (0.2 yppl better than average) is at a significant disadvantage against what figures to be a more potent Ohio State attack. The Buckeyes were 1.9 yards per play better than average in 2013 and +1.8 yppp in 2014 before slumping to +1.0 yppl last season (6.5 yppl against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team). J.T. Barrett, who was a 3rd team All-American QB in 2014 is back as the undisputed starter after starting last season as a backup (he started 5 games in the second half of the season) and I expect the offense to be improved even without star RB Ezekiel Elliott. Ohio State’s rushing numbers were actually much worse last season than the previous two years and Barrett’s return as the full time starter will help offset the loss of Elliott. There’s also the plenty of talent to step in at the running back position and overall I expect some improvement this season from the Buckeyes’ attack.

Bowling Green’s defense was solid last season (average on a national scale, which is good for the MAC) and should be better this season with all their key defenders returning, but the Falcons will have a tough time matching up with Ohio State’s speed and my ratings project 512 total yards at 6.7 yppl for the Buckeyes in this game. Overall, the ratings favor Ohio State by 29 ½ points and Urban Meyer will have his team ready to play. Bowling Green’s 10 wins last season will give Meyer the ammunition he needs to get his team to take this game seriously and Meyer’s 46-15-1 ATS record against non-conference opponents (43-11 ATS when not favored by 35 points or more) makes the likelihood of Ohio State’s covering this big number a bit better. This is a tough first game for Bowling Green’s first time head coach and teams with new head coaches are only 21-46-1 ATS in week 1 since 2002 (as far back as I tracked new head coaches). I don’t have enough value to make this a play but I certainly side with Ohio State at -28 or less and I like the Under given the expected drastic decline in Bowling Green’s offensive efficiency without Johnson.

Massachusetts @
(25) Florida

Sat, Sep 3 4:30 PM

Rotation: 181, Odds: Florida -37, Total: 50.5

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FLORIDA (-37)  43   Massachusetts  7

(2) Clemson @
Auburn

Sat, Sep 3 6:00 PM

Rotation: 183, Odds: Auburn +8, Total: 63.5

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Clemson (-8)  37   AUBURN  26

Auburn had a down season in 2015, going from being about 21 points better than average team in 2013 and 2014 to being only 12 points better than average last season. The biggest issue was an offense that was among the best in the nation with mobile quarterback Nick Marshall at quarterback in head coach Guz Malzahn’s first two seasons. It was expected that Jeremy Johnson would step in and be an instant star but Johnson wasn’t nearly as good as a starter as he was in a backup role the previous two seasons (10.8 yards per pass play on 79 pass plays). Johnson played with much more hesitation in his decision making and he averaged only 6.1 yppp last season. Freshman Sean White got the opportunity to start in the Tigers’ 4th game and started 4 more games before sitting for 4 games and then starting in the bowl victory over Memphis. White was better than Johnson, averaging 7.3 yppp against teams that would allow 6.1 yppp to an average quarterback while also being less turnover prone. Auburn went from being 3.4 yards per pass play better than average in 2015 to a more modest 0.8 yppp better than average last season. The rushing attack, meanwhile, went from among the best in the nation to average, as the Tigers managed only 4.9 yards per rushing play (against teams that would allow 4.9 yprp to an average team).

Nick Marshall ran for 2074 yards at 7.1 yards per rushing play in his two seasons but Johnson and White combined to run for just 338 yards at 5.9 yprp last season. The read-option that Auburn ran so frequently with Marshall was difficult for even the best defenses to defend and the diminished role of the read-option last season affected the production of the running backs, who were worse than average as a group. I had thought that JC transfer John Franklin would win the quarterback job so Malzahn could go back to running the read option, as Franklin is a gifted runner, but White gets the nod to start this game. Either Franklin is inept as a passer or White improved even more than what would be expected from a sophomore with starting experience (usually a significant improvement). I’ll assume White is going to be significantly improved in the passing game and he’ll run better this season after playing hurt in his final 3 starts last season (only 4 runs, after running 16 times in his first 3 starts). However, the running backs have got to step up and the dismissal of presumptive starter Jovon Robinson hurts that cause. Auburn should be better offensively this season but not close to the 2013 and 2014 levels.

Auburn’s defense improved in my ratings for a 4th consecutive season in 2015 and I rate that unit at 0.7 yards per play better than average heading into this season, which is the same rating as last year. The Tigers should be better defending the run but the pass defense is projected to slip a little – although it will still be solid.

Clemson, of course, has high expectations after their close loss to Alabama in the National Championship game last season. The Tigers’ offense was very efficient last season with DeShaun Watson rating as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and I expect even better production from Watson and his teammates in 2016 with the starting running back and 7 of last year’s 9 top receivers returning along with star Mike Williams, who was 2nd Team All-ACC in 2014 but was lost for the season in week 1 last year. I rate the Clemson attack at #2 in the nation and project the Tigers to rack up 510 yards at 6.6 yppl in this game against a pretty good Auburn stop unit.

The Clemson defense was 1.2 yards per play better than average last season and lost a lot of talent to the NFL. With just 4 returning starters you might think that Clemson would not be as good defensively. However, last season the Tigers’ defense had just 3 returning starters from a dominating 2014 unit that that lost a lot of talent to the NFL, so why couldn’t they be just as good defensively this season as they were last season? My algorithm doesn’t expect them to be quite as good as they were defensively last season but they should still be one of the nation’s best defensive teams with plenty of talent filling the holes – as was the case last year. My ratings project Auburn to gain 363 yard at 5.3 yppl and overall the math favors Clemson by 10 points. In addition to some line value, Clemson applies to a 49-15-1 ATS week 1 road favorite situation, so I’ll lean their way tonight.

(16) UCLA @
Texas A&M

Sat, Sep 3 12:30 PM

Rotation: 186, Odds: Texas A&M -3, Total: 54

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TEXAS A&M (-3)  33   Ucla  26

UCLA is ranked 16th in the nation but unranked Texas A&M is rightfully favored. The reason that the Aggies are unranked is because of the uncertainty at the quarterback position after last season’s poor performance from that position and the defections of Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, who both left the program after the season. I see last year’s issues as an isolated incident given that Kevin Sumlin’s offenses at Houston and here at A&M have been consistently good until last year’s hiccup. Former Oklahoma starter Trevor Knight has reportedly looked incredibly good in camp and Knight is 0.9 yards per pass play better than average in his career (503 pass plays at 6.6 yppp against teams that would allow 5.7 yppp to an average quarterback) and is a gifted runner. Last season the Aggies’ quarterbacks combined to be 0.1 yppp worse than average so there will be significant improvement if Knight plays at his career level, which is what I’ll expect until I see some evidence of improvement. Knight’s problem is turnovers and I do expect a higher than normal interception rate, but overall I project the Aggies’ offense to be significantly improved in 2016 after last season’s uncharacteristically mediocre performance (5.6 yards per play against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team).

The Aggies’ defense should also be improved with star Myles Garrett (12.5 sacks) and 6 other starters returning from last year’s better than average unit that allowed 5.4 yppl to teams that would combine to average 6.1 yppl against an average team. The run defense was a problem last season (5.7 yprp allowed) but A&M’s defensive line is bigger up the middle and should be better stopping the run while the pass defense should be just as good with 3 of last year’s 4 starting defensive backs returning and with Garrett once again terrorizing quarterbacks.

UCLA will be a good test to see if the improvement I expect is going to be realized. The Bruins were a solid team last season, rating at 0.6 yppl better than average on offense (6.4 yppl against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average team) and 0.9 yppl better than average defensively despite a rash of injuries. That defense should be even better this season with 10 starters returning but I don’t see the offense being any better with just 4 starters returning. One of those starters is sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen, who was the nation’s #1 rated high school quarterback two years ago. Rosen was good in his freshman campaign, averaging 7.1 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.3 yppp to an average QB) with a low interception rate, and he is likely to be significantly better this season, as is the norm for sophomore 2nd year starting quarterbacks. However, the receiving corps lost their top two receivers and four of the top five, which will inhibit Rosen’s progress a bit.

The UCLA rushing attack probably won’t be as good and it’s not because they lost leading rusher Paul Perkins. Perkins was great in his final season before leaving early for the NFL (1343 yards at 5.7 ypr), but backups Jamabo and Starks should be just as good after combining for 724 yards at 6.2 ypr in 2015. However, the offensive line is not likely to be as good this season. Last year’s line was the most experienced in the nation (131 career starts) and 3 of those starters are gone, which makes the line much less experienced. Rosen will be better but the pieces around him won’t be and I rate the Bruins’ attack at the same level as last season.

My math model would have favored Texas A&M by 3 points using last year’s stats and I think the Aggies have improved more than UCLA has. In fact, my ratings favor Texas A&M by 7 points in this game with a total of 59 ½ points. I lean with A&M and the Over.

Appalachian State @
(9) Tennessee

Thu, Sep 1 4:30 PM

Rotation: 189, Odds: Tennessee -21.5, Total: 58

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TENNESSEE (-21 ½)  35   Appalachian State  17

I wanted to write a more extensive write up on this game but game time is approaching so I’ll make it quick. I’m all on board with Tennessee being a legit top Top-10 team (I rate them #6) but Appalachian State is no pushover and I’m not sure the Vols have an explosive enough offense to be laying this many points against a Mountaineers team that was 11-2 last season. Perhaps people are looking at App State’s 10-41 loss at Clemson and figure the Mounties can’t hang with the big boys. However, Appalachian State was only outgained by 95 total yards in that game so that score is very misleading. The Mountaineers also return 15 starters, including 9 on defense to a unit that allowed just 19 points per game last season. The offense returns star running back Marcus Cox (1423 yards at 5.9 ypr in ’15) and starting quarterback Taylor Lamb. Tennessee will have to work hard to blow open this game. My ratings favor Tennessee by just 17 ½ points with a total of 51 ½ points so I lean App State and Under.

Rutgers @
(14) Washington

Sat, Sep 3 11:00 AM

Rotation: 191, Odds: Washington -26.5, Total: 54.5

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WASHINGTON (-26 ½)  38   Rutgers  14

(5) LSU vs
Wisconsin

Sat, Sep 3 12:30 PM

Rotation: 194, Odds: Wisconsin +11, Total: 44.5

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Louisiana State (-11)  26   Wisconsin  17

LSU has the potential to be the best team in the nation but quarterback Brandon Harris has got to be more consistent throwing the football after completing just 54% of his passes last season. LSU throws a lot of deep passes (they average 14.5 yards per completion) – so Harris is not going to have a high completion percentage – but he needs to get in the 58% completion range to take this offense to another level. Deep play action passes are not a recipe for consistent success when facing teams that are capable of slowing down or stopping star RB Leonard Fournette, which was proven in consecutive late season losses to Alabama, Arkansas, and Ole’ Miss, in which the Tigers averaged just 15.7 points. Fournette had crazy good numbers against teams with a mediocre or sub-par run defense but he averaged a more modest 5.4 ypr in 4 games against really good run defenses (Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, and Miss). If that doesn’t change then Harris will need to be more consistent to beat other elite teams.

Wisconsin had a very good run defense last season (4.0 yards per rushing play allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.1 yprp against an average team), as they have had in most seasons, and I expect the Badgers’ opponents to have a similarly tough time running against them in 2016 with five of last year’s defensive front seven returning. Wisconsin also should have a good pass defense, which is projected to be 1.0 yards per pass play better than average after rating at 1.2 yppp better than average last season. If the Badgers contain Fournette as other good run defenses did last season then Harris will need to step up.

Wisconsin was so good defensively last season that they won 10 games despite having a worse than average offense that averaged only 5.4 yards per play. The normally potent Badgers’ rushing attack was horrible last season (4.5 yards per rushing play against teams that would allow 5.0 yprp) but the return to health of senior RB Corey Clement and better offensive line play (4 of 5 starters return) should result in a significant rise in the rushing numbers. Clement started last season injured and only played in 4 games but he’s averaged 6.6 ypr on his 262 career rushes. I don’t expect him to be that good and I conservatively project the Badgers to be 0.4 yprp better than average this season while senior QB Bart Houston puts up similar mediocre passing numbers as Joel Stave did the last few years.

While Wisconsin should be better offensively the Badgers are still at a major disadvantage going up against what figures to be an elite LSU defense. The Tigers’ defense is actually being run by Dave Aranda, who was the Wisconsin’s DC the last 3 years, and he has a plethora of talent to work with. LSU returns 9 starters from a defensive unit that was 1.0 yards per play better than average last season (5.3 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.3 yppl against an average team). LSU has my #3 rated defense heading into this season and this figures to be a long night for the Wisky offense, which Aranda knows very well.

While I do expect solid improvement from Brandon Harris and the LSU pass attack, my ratings still favor LSU by only 9 points in this game, so there is a bit of value on the defensively strong underdog, although I do have some concern that losing DC Aranda to today’s opponent will negatively affect the defense more than my algorithm project it will. I’ll still lean with Wisconsin plus the points but there are better options for your sports related investments this weekend.

(22) North Carolina vs
(18) Georgia

Sat, Sep 3 2:30 PM

Rotation: 195, Odds: Georgia -3, Total: 57

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Georgia (-3)  32   North Carolina  30

A new era starts for the University of Georgia football program with Kirby Smart replacing long tenured coach Mark Richt. However, it looks like the Jacob Easton era may have to wait at least another week, as the nation’s #1 quarterback recruit failed to beat out incumbent Greyson Lambert, who was tabbed as the starter for this game. I don’t know if that’s an indictment on Eason or rather that Lambert is better than he’s been throughout his career at Virginia and last season with the Bulldogs. Lambert has the occasional great game but he was really inconsistent last season. That wasn’t as much of a problem when Nick Chubb was healthy and averaging 8 yards a run but Lambert could not pick up the offense on his shoulders after Chubb was injured and the Bulldogs’ offense struggled.

I’ll assume that Lambert has improved some and he actually won’t need to improve much with Chubb back with a clean bill of health. Chubb averaged 7.1 ypr while running for 1547 yards in 2014 and he ran for an 745 yards in the first 5 games at an incredible 8.1 ypr – including 189 yards at 9.9 ypr against a good Vanderbilt defense and 146 yards at 7.3 ypr against Alabama. Chubb was hurt on his first carry against Tennessee in week 6 and backup RB Sony Michel was not nearly as good. The Georgia rushing attack was 1.8 yards per rushing play better than average in 2014 with a healthy Chubb and the Bulldogs rated at +2.0 yprp in the first 5 games last season before the injury. From week 6 on Georgia’s rushing rating was just 0.1 yprp better than average (4.8 yprp against teams that would allow 4.7 yprp to an average team) and the Bulldogs averaged only 18.8 points in those 8 games without Chubb. I don’t anticipate Georgia being as good running the ball as they were in 2014 or in the first 5 games last season but the Bulldogs should have a very good rushing attack and it’s possible they’ll be as good as they were prior to Chubb’s injury.

North Carolina certainly is not going to be as good as they were last season, as the Tarheels will be without dynamic dual threat quarterback Marquis Williams, who not only averaged 8.0 yards per pass play (against FBS teams) but also ran for over 1000 yards (1061 yards at 7.5 yards per run if you take the sack yardage out, which I do). New quarterback Mitch Trubisky certainly looks like he can keep the pass attack at a high level, as he’s completed 66% of his career passes and averaged 11.4 yards per pass play in spot duty last season (completed 40 of 47 passes!). However, it’s unlikely he’ll add to the rushing attack at the level that Williams did last season – although he may not need to with RB Elijah Wood back for his junior season after racking up 1463 yards at 6.7 ypr in 2015. The Carolina offense will still be among the nation’s best, but probably not quite as good as last season.

The Georgia defense should be pretty solid again this season with defensively minded head coach Kirby Smart controlling the team but UNC is projected by my ratings to tally 418 yards at 6.3 yards per play. Georgia, meanwhile, is projected at 452 yards at 6.3 yppl, as the Bulldogs should run more plays with their ball control offense. Special teams figures to be in favor of the Tarheels, as has been the case in most of their games in recent years, and overall the ratings favor Georgia by just 1 ½ points with a total of 62 ½ points. I don’t see much value in the side but my ratings like the over.

(20) USC vs
(1) Alabama

Sat, Sep 3 5:00 PM

Rotation: 202, Odds: Alabama -12, Total: 52.5

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Alabama (-12)  33   Southern Cal  19

Alabama enters this season as my top rated team, as the Crimson Tide will replace the players they lost to the NFL with more NFL caliber talent. Last season’s team was actually their worst team on a compensated yards per play basis since 2008, as the Bama offense was about 0.8 yards per play worse than normal standards. Jake Coker did a fine job of avoiding turnovers (only 8 interceptions in 15 games) but he wasn’t nearly as efficient as predecessors Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron. Coker is gone and there will be another first year starter under center to start this season – either Cooper Bateman or redshirt frosh Blake Barnett, who reportedly has more upside. Last season the offense had to adjust to life without Amare Cooper, who was targeted 3 times as much as any other receiver in 2014. This season the Tide have their top 3 receivers back and I expect O.J. Howard to build on his post season success from the tight end position (8 catches and 267 yards in 2 playoff games). The pass attack should be better with more experience at the receiver positions and replacing Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry is actually not going to be that challenging given the fact that he averaged a fairly mediocre 5.6 yards per run (the national average is 5.1 yards per running play). Last year’s rushing attack was actually the lowest rated at Alabama since 2008 (based on compensated yards per rushing play) and Nick Saban stockpiles talented running backs. I’ll rate the Bama rushing attack about the same as the last two seasons but it wouldn’t surprise me if Alabama is improved in that facet of the offense now that the overrated Henry has moved on. Overall, I see improvement from the Bama offense this season.

Most people think it will be tough for the Tide to match last year’s defensive numbers, which were 0.5 yards per play better than in 2013 and 2014. However, the secondary returns 3 of 4 starters and the front seven is loaded with talent and depth, as usual. Alabama’s defense rating last season of 1.7 yards per play better than average (4.4 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.1 yppl against an average defensive team) was actually only 0.1 yppl better than their average rating over the last 8 years. I have no reason to expect that this year’s defense will much different than the average of the last 8 years and I rate that unit only slightly worse than last year’s dominating group.

USC is coming off a tumultuous 8-6 season in which their head coach was fired after 5 games due to misconduct. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton took over and Trojans went 5-4 over their last 9 games and was hired full time. That record doesn’t sound good but the Trojans’ losses were at Notre Dame, at Oregon, against Stanford in the Pac 12 Championship, and by just 2 points to Wisconsin. The Trojans were a good team last year and they’ll be considerably better this season.

USC’s offense loses 3 year starting quarterback Cody Kessler but the rest of the Trojans’ offensive starters are back and new quarterback Max Browne was the top recruit at the position in his class a few years ago. Browne has an experienced and talented corps of receivers to work with (Juju Smith-Schuster was a 2nd Team All-American last season) along with last year’s top two running backs and 5 returning starters on the offensive line – although star left tackle Chad Wheeler is likely to miss this game with a foot injury. The USC pass attack was 0.3 yards per pass play worse last season than it was in 2014 and 2013 and I expect a climb back up to at least those levels this season while the rushing attack is also likely to improve. I rate the Trojans’ attack as 18th best in the nation but they’re at a disadvantage in this game against my #1 rated defense, and not having Wheeler protecting Browne’s blind side against a ferocious pass rush could be an issue.

The Trojans’ defense slipped a bit last season, going from an average rating of 0.5 yards per play better than average in recent years to only 0.3 yppl better than average last season. The front 7 is green (only 1 returning starter), although there is plenty of highly rated talent filling those spots, but the secondary returns intact and should show significant improvement this season after being just 0.1 yards per pass play better than average in 2015 (6.7 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would combine to average 6.8 yppp against an average team). I expect Alabama to move the ball at a better than average clip but it’s possible that USC’ young front 7 plays better than I expect and forces Alabama to test that experienced and talented Trojans’ defensive backfield.

Overall, my ratings favor Alabama by 13 ½ points but I think USC has some upside potential and a close game certainly wouldn’t surprise me. However, Nick Saban tends to have his team in mid-season form at the start of each year and Alabama is 19-4 ATS in the first 5 games of the season when they’re not favored by more than 25 points. Bama is actually 13-0 ATS in the first 5 games of the season when favored from 9 to 25 points and I’d rather not buck that trend. I’ll lean with Alabama but I am not putting my money on this game.

(10) Notre Dame @
Texas

Sun, Sep 4 4:30 PM

Rotation: 210, Odds: Texas +3.5, Total: 54.5

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Strong Opinion – TEXAS (+3 ½)  34   Notre Dame  32

Strong Opinion – Over (54.5)

Notre Dame destroyed Texas 38-3 in South Bend last season but this is a new year and Texas is much better suited to compete with an overrated Notre Dame team that won’t be nearly as good as they were last season. The Irish return just 3 starters on offense and only 4 returning starters on defense and the losses are impactful. The only issue at quarterback is that head coach Brian Kelly can’t decide between two talented passers, as last year’s opening day starter Malik Zaire is back from an injury he sustained early in week 2 and DeShone Kizer has proven himself to be an effective passer in 10 ½ games under center after Zaire was injured. Regardless of who the quarterback is the pass attack won’t be nearly as good without the services of star WR Will Fuller, who averaged a very impressive 13.2 yards per pass targeted at him last season. The rest of the Notre Dame wide receivers combined to average a modest 7.8 yards per target, which is actually below the national average for wide receivers. Overall, only 1 of the top 7 receivers from last season are back now that WR Corey Robinson has retired due to concussions and talented TE Alize Jones failed to qualify academically. Notre Dame is still likely to have a good pass attack. They just won’t have a great one. The Irish rushing attack should still be special, however, as sophomore Josh Adams will get the bulk of the carries after averaging 7.1 yards on his 117 runs last season while playing behind C.J. Prosise, who left early for the NFL after running for 1032 yards at 6.6 ypr in 2015. The offensive line doesn’t figure to be quite as good and backup Tarean Folston hasn’t proven to be much better than mediocre (5.2 ypr on 266 career runs). While Adams is certainly not a step down from Prosise, the production from the 2nd back figures to decline this season. Even with that being the case the projection is for the Irish to be 1.3 yards per rushing play better than average (4th best in the nation) while the pass attack rates at 1.3 yards per pass play better than average. Notre Dame was an incredible 1.9 yards per play better than average offensively last season (7.1 yppl against teams that would allow 5.2 yppl to an average attack) but they’ll have to settle for a more modest, but still potent, +1.3 yppl rating heading into this season.

Texas has an experienced defensive secondary going up against that raw Irish group of receivers and I expect the Longhorns’ pass defense to be among the best in the nation (I rate them 8th in pass defense). The key for Texas will be defending the run, which is something that they were not good at last season. The Longhorns weren’t bad defending the run, as they rated at 0.1 yards per rushing play better than average on a national scale, and they are projected to be 0.3 yprp better than average this season. However, that’s not good enough to keep Notre Dame from moving the ball on the ground and my ratings project 6.0 yards per run and 6.0 yards per play for Notre Dame in this game.

While Notre Dame’s offense will still be strong the defense is likely to be worse than last year’s pretty mediocre unit. The Irish were only 0.3 yards per play better than average defensively in 2015, allowing 5.5 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yppl against an average stop unit, and this year’s group is a lot less experienced than last year’s veteran laden edition (9 returning starters). Only 4 starters return this season (5 if you include NT Jarron Jones, who started in 2014 but missed last season with an ACL injury) and just 1 of last year’s top 8 tacklers returns this season and the projection is a return to the mediocre levels of 2014. Notre Dame was just average defensively in 2014 and that is how they project in 2016.

An average defense would have been good enough to handle the Texas offense last season because the Longhorns’ pass attack was so atrocious. Texas quarterbacks completed only 55% of their passes last season and there were 6 games in which the Longhorns averaged 3.2 yards per pass play or less. Texas had a strong rushing attack that averaged 246 yards at 6.0 yards per rushing play and the run game should be a strength against this season. The difference in this year’s Texas offense is what should be a much improved pass attack. Freshman Shane Buechele had a spectacular Spring game and has reportedly had the edge to start over a significantly improved Tyrone Swoopes; while last year’s main trigger man, the ultra athletic Jerrod Heard, is now going to be a threat a wide receiver. If you watched Heard run last season you can imagine how effective he could be on the receiving end of those bubble screens that new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert is likely to utilize. Gilbert comes from the Art Briles/Baylor coaching tree and in his one season as the OC at Tulsa he improved the Golden Hurricane offense by 0.8 yards per play and turned previously inaccurate quarterback Dane Evans (55% completions and 17 interceptions as a starter in 2014) to an accurate, mistake free passer in 2015 (63% completions and just 8 interceptions on 485 pass attempts). If Gilbert can turn Evans around he should be able to do wonder with the highly rated Buechele. Swoopes could also play but reports are that he’s significantly improved and if he plays more than Buechele then I expect him to play well. I’ll start the season with Texas being rated as average in the pass game but there is certainly upside potential given the better coaching and talent at receiver. Even with an average pass attack the Longhorns have an edge over a mediocre Notre Dame defense and my ratings project 489 yards at 6.3 yppl for Texas in this game.

Overall my ratings favor Texas by 2 points and 67 total points, which assumes that head coach Charlie Strong will allow Gilbert to run his up tempo attack at the same pace he ran it in at Tulsa and Bowling Green (in 2014). In addition to the line value it may be tough for Notre Dame to take this game as seriously as they should, given how easily they beat Texas last season. Teams that lost 3 or fewer games the previous season are just 6-33-3 ATS in week 1 as a favorite against a non-conference team that they beat by more than 21 points the previous season. I’ll consider Texas a Strong Opinion at +3 points or more. There is also value on the over but that is conditional on Texas playing at the pace OC Gilbert wants to play at, and while I assume that they will, there is still some doubt. The total has come down from 60 to 54.5 so I will now consider the OVER a Strong Opinion (at 56 points or lower).

(11) Mississippi vs
(4) Florida St.

Mon, Sep 5 5:00 PM

Rotation: 212, Odds: Florida St. -6, Total: 59

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Florida State (-5)  35   Mississippi  30

Two of my top 10 teams square off in this Monday night prime time affair and it should be an exciting game with two explosive offenses facing off against two very good defensive units. I think the offenses will prevail and we’ll see a higher scoring than expected game.

Florida State’s attack will be run by redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, who reportedly has the confidence and potentially the talent of Jameis Winston. I don’t expect Francois to start his career with 25 of 27 passing, as Winston did at Pitt in 2013, but Florida State’s pass attack should be better than it was last season with an ultra-conservative Everett Golson opting for high percentage short passes rather than pushing the ball down the field as previous Jimbo Fisher quarterbacks had done. Golson completed 67% of his passes but for mediocre 12.0 yards per completion. The Seminoles were more effective on a yards per pass play basis when Sean Maguire stepped in as the starter the final 6 games, as Maguire averaged 7.5 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.0 yppp to an average quarterback) while Golson averaged a more modest 6.9 yppp (against teams that would allow 6.3 yppp to an average QB) with his conservative approach – although with only 3 interceptions. Maguire and Francois were in a tight battle for the starting spot this season before Maguire was injured and I expect an improvement in the Seminoles’ aerial attack that returns every receiver from last year’s team. Experienced receivers make a big difference for young quarterbacks and they’ll help make things easy for Francois. Heisman Trophy candidate RB Dalvin Cook, who ran for 1691 yards at an incredible 7.4 ypr last season, returns along with the entire offensive line, so the rushing attack could be just as good (1.3 yprp better than average) and Francois should have time to look downfield. Florida State was 1.1 yards per play better than average offensively last season (6.6 yppl against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) and I rate the Seminoles’ attack at +1.6 yppl entering this season, which is about the average rating they’ve had over the last 4 seasons.

Francois will have a sturdy test in his first start, as Ole’ Miss was 1.1 yppl better than average defensively last season (4.9 yppp allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average team) and rates at 0.9 yppl better than average this season. The Rebels’ run defense has been among the best in the nation the last two seasons and should be just as good but the secondary took a hit with the losses of star safeties Mike Hilton and Trae Elston, who were not only #2 and #3 on the team in tackles but also defended a combined 33 passes. Mississippi only allowed 10.5 yards per completion last season with those two elite safeties patrolling the back end but that number figures to rise this season and Florida State’s vertical pass attack will certainly test the new safeties. My ratings project 462 yards at 6.3 yppl for Florida State in this game.

The Ole’ Miss offense should be able to keep pace with Chad Kelly back at quarterback after an incredible 2015 season in which he averaged 7.9 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 5.6 yppp to an average QB). Kelly may be improved as a quarterback but he lost his top two receivers, including Laquon Treadwell, who caught 82 balls for 1153 yards at 11 touchdowns last season. Another receiving star will likely emerge and Treadwell’s 9.6 yards per pass targeted at him was actually lower than the 10.2 yards per target that the rest of the wide receivers averaged last season. Still, Treadwell was Kelly’s security blanket and his slightly worse numbers than the rest of the receiving corps can be explained by the more frequent double-teams he had to combat. The Ole’ Miss rushing attack is better than average but not great, and overall I rate the Rebels’ attack at 1.4 yppl better than average this season.

The FSU defense was 1.0 yppl better than average in 2015 (4.7 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.7 yppl) but it’s highly unlikely that the Seminoles will hold opponents to 9.9 yards per completion as they did a year ago. Regression to the team in that statistic is likely and while Florida State is just as talented defensively as they were last season they probably won’t be quite as good statistically and I rate that unit at 0.9 yppl better than average this season. My ratings project 439 yards at 6.0 yppl for the Rebels in this game.

Overall my ratings favor Florida State by 5 points (with 1.5 points given for playing nearby in Orlando), so I don’t see any value in the side. However, the numbers project 65 total points so I’ll lean over the total.

(3) Oklahoma vs
(15) Houston

Sat, Sep 3 9:00 AM

Odds: Houston PK, Total:

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Oklahoma (-12)  39   Houston  23

Houston had an amazing season last year, going 13-1 and capped off by a 38-24 bowl win over #9 Florida State. The Cougars have just as many starters returning (11) as last season, including quarterback Greg Ward, and they are still the team to beat in the American Athletic Conference. However, Houston is not going to replicate last year’s magic unless they can go +21 in turnover margin again, which is highly unlikely. I fully expect the Cougars to limit turnovers on offense with Greg Ward throwing accurate balls and mostly safe passes, but 21 interceptions on defense is not going to repeat itself with star CB William Jackson (5 interceptions and 23 other passes defended) now in the NFL – and they wouldn’t be likely to have 21 picks again even if he was back.

Houston was only 0.3 yards per play better than average offensively last season (6.2 yppl against FBS teams that would allow 5.9 yppl to an average team) and the Cougars were average on a compensated yards per play basis on defense (5.5 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.5 yppl against an average team). So, without the huge turnover differential I just don’t see this team being great. Good? Yes. Great? No.

Oklahoma, meanwhile, should be great again. The Sooners were 1.4 yppl better than average offensively and 1.3 yppl better than average defensively last season and return 13 starters. The offense should be nearly as efficient this season with quarterback Baker Mayfield back along with both star running backs, Perine and Mixon, and a talented offensive line. The absence of top receiver Sterling Shepard will hurt some, as his 11.0 yards per target was considerably better than the rest of the wide receivers last season (they combined for 8.7 yards per target). But, the Sooners will still be nearly as potent offensively.

The Oklahoma defense will probably drop off some without two time All-American LB Eric Striker and 3rd team All-American CB Zack Sanchez, who picked off 7 passes and defended 7 others last season. Other stars will emerge given the high level of talent but my algorithm calls for a 0.4 yppl regression towards the mean defensively for the Sooners D.

Overall my ratings favor Oklahoma by 16 points in this game, with a total of 62 points, so I’ll lean with the Sooners minus the points and the Under (68 points).

South Dakota State @
(13) TCU

Sat, Sep 3 5:00 PM

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UC Davis @
(24) Oregon

Sat, Sep 3 2:00 PM

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Southeastern Louisiana @
(21) Oklahoma St.

Sat, Sep 3 12:30 PM

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Furman @
(12) Michigan St.

Fri, Sep 2 4:00 PM

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Northwestern State @
(23) Baylor

Fri, Sep 2 4:30 PM

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