Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 9/5/15

Let me do a reset here to introduce new readers to this recurring “feature” – and it is unseemly for long-term readers to point out that it is sometimes a recurring nightmare. For most weeks, I will put out a summary of the upcoming college football weekend and make some picks in what I call “Games of Interest”. I specifically say “most weeks” because while my intent is to do it “every week”, travel schedules and family events may make it impossible to do this “every week”.

These picks are NOT based on inside information; they are NOT intended to be wagering advice; under absolutely NO circumstances should anyone wager real money on any or all of the games I pick here with an expectation of a profit. I am doing this because I enjoy doing it – the same reason that I write the daily rants that populate most of the rest of this website.

Within these weekly NCAA Mythical Picks, there will be a structure:

    1. I will present the results of last week’s picks – good or bad.

    2. I will then make some general comments about NCAA football.

    3. I will track what I call “Ponderosa Spread Games”. Let me explain that. About 20 years ago, I wondered how accurately oddsmakers could set a point spread for blowout games. So I defined these blowout games as ones with a point spread of 24 points or more and I tracked them for an entire season. Amazingly, the favorite covered in just about 50% of the games. So I did it again the year after that… Here I call them “Ponderosa Spread games” after the Ponderosa which was the ranch on the old TV show Bonanza. The Ponderosa was a “really big spread”; get it?

    4. I will eschew any attempt to rank the top teams or to predict the College Football Playoff. However, starting in mid or late October, I will begin to identify what I call the SHOE Tournament teams. The SHOE Tournament is an imaginary concoction of mine where I seed the 8 worst teams of the year in a single elimination tournament to determine THE SHOE Team of the year – where SHOE is an acronym for Steaming Heap Of Excrement. In the imaginary tournament, the losing team in each round has to play on and the winner can go home knowing they are not THE SHOE Team for the year.

    5. Finally, I will make some game picks against the spread and/or the Total Line. Rarely, I might also make a pick based on the Money Line because after all, these are Mythical Picks.

Remember, no one should use any information here as the basis for making a wager involving real money – or anything else of value – on a college football game this weekend. Anyone dumb enough to do that would probably buy land in Antarctica in order to grow chili beans.

General Comments:

As few as 10 years ago, the first week of college football season was a mishmash of blowout games. As the sport grew in popularity and expanded its footprint on TV, the folks who pay for TV rights started demanding more attractive matchups prior to conference games that generally do not start until October. And so this weekend, there are some games between two good teams. Ten years ago, close games would have been opening games between two bad teams who did not find a big-time school willing to pay them to come and get their brains beaten in.

Back in March, the Columbia Tribune got hold of documents from the Missouri Athletic Department detailing what it takes to get some cupcake teams to come to play Mizzou before the SEC schedule kicks in. I do not cite this here to denigrate Missouri; many – in fact all – of the powerhouse football programs schedule powder-puff games. Here is the data from the Columbia Tribune:

    Division 1-AA teams like Missouri State and Southeast Missouri State get $400K each to come and take a shellacking.

    Division 1-A schools like Idaho and E. Michigan demand $1M to serve as cannon fodder.

These arrangements make sense for everyone concerned. Missouri is in the SEC and gets a boatload of TV money; it needs a gaudy record at the end of the season to put itself in a position to play in profitable bowl games at the end of the year. The “sacrificial lamb schools” need dollars to keep their athletic budgets from drowning in red ink; they know they are not going to play in any lucrative end-of-season games so these early season clobberings are “fund raisers” and “budget balancers”. Only the fans get something they would prefer not to get. Even the most ardent alum/booster for a football program cannot enjoy a game where their heroes are ahead 62-3 at the end of the 3rd quarter. [Aside: Georgia Tech led Alcorn St. at the half last night by a score of 48-0.]

Back in April of this year, Bob Molinaro had a comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding the expansion of bowl games yet again this year. Interestingly, he used a metaphor that would take on a more controversial hue later in the year thanks to James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers:

“As the college football bowl field grows – possibly to 43 games by next season – so does ODU’s potential postseason opportunity. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In any case, bowl invitations shrink in significance – don’t you think? – when they’re handed out to two-thirds of the FBS schools, opening the door to even more 6-6 teams. Then they become like youth participation trophies.”

As the Art Briles/Chris Petersen volley of words continues regarding who knew what and when with regard to Sam Ukwuachu’s transfer to Baylor – now that Ukwuachu has been sentenced to 18 months in jail and 10 years’ probation for sexual assault – it seems to me that there is something to root for this season:

    Petersen is the coach at Washington; Briles is the coach at Baylor. Washington is unlikely to make it to the College Football Playoff so what we need to root for is that Baylor does not go there either and then some bowl committee convinces the two schools to play one another in the Whatever Bowl. I’d watch that one…

Greg Cote had two items in columns in the Miami Herald that pertain to college football in that part of the world:

“FIU football must average 15,000 fans per game this season or risk losing its top-tier FBS standing. I say this in case you notice crowds seem bigger than usual because of what appears to be thousands of rented homeless people.”

And…

“Florida State is now requiring all of it athletes to take a personal-responsibility course. Probably would-a been cheaper just posting a memo to football players: QUIT HITTING WOMEN!

I think pre-season polls are meaningless and the ones that come out every week in September and early October are just about as meaningless. That does not stop them from polluting the airwaves and the Internet but let me remind you of how silly they are:

    Last year, Ohio State lost early and dropped out of the Top 10 in the early polls. I think I recall they were ranked 20th in the country then.

    Last year, Oregon lost early and dropped out of the Top 10 in the early polls. I cannot recall how far they dropped but I think it was around 15th in the country.

    Now, which two teams played for the College Football Championship at the end of the season?

    The prosecution rests, Your Honor…

I said above that I do not pay strict attention to the Bottom Feeders who will end up in my imaginary SHOE Tournament until much later in the season. Having said that, there are some teams I will be watching early on just because…:

    “The Regulars”: I can usually count on these teams to be part of my considerations late in the year such as Army, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico St. and SMU.

    “The Newbies”: These teams are just recently part of Division 1-A football and are still having growing pains such as Georgia St., UNC/Charlotte and UT San Antonio.

    “The Gravities”: These teams have been “up” recently and so it is possible they will come “down” this year such as FIU, North Texas and UMass.

Army has a junior WR this year named Edgar Allan Poe. I wonder if he will get drafted by the Baltimore Ravens…

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

Because lines are difficult to find in games between Davison 1-A schools and teams from lower divisions, there are going to be a lot more “blowout” games this weekend than will be referenced here. For example, I cannot find lines anywhere for Alcorn St./Georgia Tech or Grambling/Cal or McNeese St./LSU. Were I to locate such lines, I suspect all would qualify as Ponderosa Spread Games.

This week we have 8 Ponderosa Spread Games:

(Thurs Nite) UTSA at Arizona – 32 (54): Clearly a budget balancer game for UTSA.

(Fri Nite) Baylor – 34 at SMU (73.5): Baylor is aiming to be in the College Football Playoff this year; SMU is a potential SHOE Tournament team. ‘Nuff said…?

New Mexico St. at Florida – 37 (54.5): Florida has a new coach and he will want to get things off on the right foot…

Troy at NC State – 26 (62): This impending road loss for Troy will not be as bad as their home loss to Greece a while back…

Akron at Oklahoma – 31.5 (56.5): Not exactly what I would call a long-standing back-yard rivalry…

La-Monroe at Georgia – 36 (54): This game should be out-of-hand by halftime…

Texas St. at Florida St. – 29.5 (64): The Total Line here opened the week at 59 and shot up to this level very quickly. I do not think that is because bettors expect Texas St. to put 35 points on the board…

Arkansas St. at USC – 27.5 (70): If I were the Arkansas State coach, I would have my team stand on the sidelines during the coin toss holding up champagne glasses filled with Gatorade to toast USC coach Steve Sarkisian. You know that will get Arkansas St. more ESPN highlight time than anything else they will do this year…

Games of Interest:

I am not going to “pad my stats” by picking last night’s games. Anyone can pick winners after the results of the games hit the wires. However, perhaps we might learn something from last night’s games…

    TCU 23 Minnesota 17: Normally, Minnesota starts out with 4 pillow-soft games; this year they scheduled TCU and lots of folks think TCU is going to be really good. That tells me that the Minnesota defense is pretty good -–and probably better than most of the Big-12 opponents TCU will face. Minnesota’s offense on the other hand did not look sharp against TCU.

    S. Carolina 17 UNC 13: Last year, these teams finished in the bottom 10% of Division 1-A teams in defensive stats; UNC allowed about 40 points per game. This game looked like a defensive struggle instead of a pair of inept offenses. S. Carolina intercepted 2 passes in their end zone last night.

    Utah 24 Michigan 17: The Jim Harbaugh Era started off as a linear extrapolation of the Brady Hoke Era. Actually, in the parts of this game that I saw, Michigan did not look bad; it’s just that Utah looked better. The PAC-12 South has USC, UCLA, Arizona St., Arizona and Utah in it. That looks like a tough Division.

    FIU 15 UCF 14: This is a shocker. UCF led 14-3 at halftime and was shut out for the second half. This win takes FIU off of my “SHOE Tournament radar for the time being.

    W. Kentucky 14 Vandy 12: This is a bad omen for Vandy; W. Ky is not at the level of the SEC opponents on Vandy’s schedule down the road.

(Friday) UNC/Charlotte at Georgia St. – 7.5 (73.5): Note that these are two teams on my radar as potential SHOE Tournament Teams come December. Moreover, one of them is favored by more than a TD here and the Total Line says that the winner should score 40 or more points. This will be UNC/Charlotte’s first game as a Division-1A team; Georgia St. has been in Division 1-A for a couple of years now but has yet to win a game against another Division 1-A school. If you want to bet on a game like that, you probably need to consider a 12-step program…

(Friday) Washington at Boise St. – 12 (56): The story line here is that Chris Petersen now coaches the Huskies but spent 8 years as the very successful coach at Boise St; it is his first return to Boise. I think Petersen has played that card with his team for several weeks now and that Washington will keep it closer than that. I like Washington plus the points – even on the road.

Penn State – 6.5 at Temple (42): The last time Temple beat Penn State was in 1941. It happened before Pearl Harbor and that was the year Ted Williams hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games. It has been a while… I cannot cite specific evidence, but I strongly suspect that it has also been a while since Penn State was favored by less than a TD over Temple. I like Penn state to win and cover here.

UVa at UCLA – 19.5 (52): If Virginia is going to do any business here, it ought to be on defense against a freshman QB for UCLA. Moreover, Virginia’s offense does not seem to be anything close to a scoring machine. I do not see where 53 points will come from so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Stanford – 12 at Northwestern (47.5): Clearly, this is the SAT Bowl Game… This is another game where points ought to be at a premium so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER and I’ll take Northwestern with the points.

Louisville vs. Auburn – 10.5 (57): This game is being played in Atlanta. Unlike the last two Games of Interest, I think I can see plenty of scoring in this one. I like the game to go OVER.

Arizona St. vs. Texas A&M – 3.5 (70): This game is being played in Houston. Some folks have conceded the PAC-12 South to the winner of the USC/UCLA game later this year. I think Arizona St could be a sleeper there but they need to be sure to bring their defense with them for this game because Texas A&M will run and gun all day long – except that the game does not start until 7:00 PM. Purely a hunch here but I’ll take Arizona State plus the points.

BYU at Nebraska – 7 (60): BYU is a good team with a good defense; Nebraska will likely be a good team but it will be playing its first game under a new coach with a new system. Even on the road, I think BYU has a legitimate shot at winning the game outright which means I will be happy to take them here plus the points. I also think both defenses are good enough to keep the score UNDER.

Texas at Notre Dame – 9 (51.5): Notre Dame aspires to the College Football Playoffs – or to a major bowl game at a minimum. Beating Texas is important to them in their quest. Texas is not the powerhouse it once was, but it is still “Texas”. Charlie Strong wants his team to be tough on defense; the Irish defense has been a team strength for several years now. I think the game will be a defensive game and that it will stay UNDER.

Wisconsin vs. Alabama – 12 (49): This game is being played in Arlington. Perhaps the best game of the weekend – unless you like Ohio State/Va Tech on Monday night. Wisconsin is a “ground and pound” team with a big offensive line and big backs. Alabama has a front seven that can deal with that. So, unless Wisconsin has found a way to add a deep passing threat to their arsenal from last year, I think Alabama has the advantage. I’ll take Alabama to win and cover here.

Mississippi St. – 21 at So. Miss (61): People have Miss. St. QB, Dak Prescott as a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy. You may be certain that no one on the So. Miss roster enjoys similar accolades. So. Miss has been a bad team for a couple of years now and this is not the way a team in that situation needs to open a season. Even on the road, I’ll take Miss St. to win and cover.

(Sunday) Purdue at Marshall – 7.5 (63): This is a Game of Interest for reasons other than wagering. Note that Purdue – a Big-10 school – opens on the road at Marshall – a CUSA school. Moreover, Purdue is an underdog by more than a TD. If indeed they do not cover here, remember that for later games involving the Boilermakers this year…

(Monday) Ohio State – 13.5 at Va Tech (53): It is not often that Ohio State goes into a game with the revenge factor on its side. Tech was the only team to beat Ohio State last year and they did it in Columbus. I suspect Urban Meyer may have reminded this team of that happenstance once or twice in the practices leading up to this game. I expect Ohio State to get a lead and to keep its foot on the gas until the final play of the game. I am not a trend bettor and I have not verified this stat, but here is what I ran across:

    Since 2011, Va Tech is only 8-16-1 against the spread at home.

I like Ohio State to win and cover on the road.

There are some other games of interest for which I cannot find spreads so I will just list them and tell you why I find them interesting:

    Savannah St./Colorado St.: Savannah St has been a punching bag for Division 1-A schools for the last several years. Then they got hit by the NCAA with practice time limitations because the players were not meeting APR standards. Oh swell…

    Fordham/Army: There was a time long ago when Army was a powerhouse team in the same way that Notre Dame was a powerhouse team then and the way Alabama is a powerhouse team now. This year, they host Fordham in their opener. Sic transit gloria mundi…

    S. Dakota St./Kansas: If there is a line on this game somewhere, Kansas is likely favored – and that may be the only time this year that circumstance will obtain.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times a while back with regard to UAB killing off its football program only to change its mind and reinstate the program a few months later:

“Alabama-Birmingham reinstated its football program for play in 2016 — just six months after announcing it was scrapping it.

If anyone has any sense of fortuitous timing, the season opener’s very first play call will be a reverse.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………