The CW9 will take a weekly look at nine of the college football games that I’m interested in from an investment standpoint. I will focus on a number of factors, such as unit specific mismatches, scheduling opportunities and discovering value in the the market perception of teams. You can follow all of my plays for free on the SportsAction App through the App Store or Google Play.
Texas at Baylor +9
Date: Saturday, October 28th, 12:00 pm ET
Notes: Baylor is starting to become the most dependable team in the nation that does not have one win on the season. The Bears have covered three of their last four games, even winning the yardage battle in two of those four. Matt Rhule has his crew motivated to get its first win of the season. Down 38-13 in the fourth quarter to West Virginia last week, Baylor’s comeback almost paid off with a straight up victory.
Baylor ranks as one of the top teams in the nation defensively in preventing explosive plays. This bodes well against a Texas Longhorns team that ranks close to last in offensive explosion. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger is in concussion protocol this week and is listed as questionable. After getting national attention for being rushed back into action, it would be surprising to see him play this week.
Major media needs to make a bigger deal out of this – Editorial: Ignoring Texas QB Sam Ehlinger’s head trauma https://t.co/1PujX7Zlce
— Dr. Chris Nowinski (@ChrisNowinski1) October 16, 2017
It looks as if we may get a steady dose of an injured Shane Buechele or Jerrod Heard (who could move back to QB from receiver) under center for the Longhorns on Saturday. This is a great spot to back a hungry Bears team catching a banged up Texas squad in a sleepy 11 a.m. local kick.
The Pick: Baylor +9
Oklahoma St -7 at West Virginia
Date: Saturday, October 28th, 12:00 pm ET
Notes: After an atrocious outing representing the CW9 against Texas, explosive plays for Oklahoma State can only be found on the back of a milk carton. The Pokes should get their groove back in Week 9 when they travel to Morgantown as a touchdown favorite. The spread is spot on with my power number along with S&P+ and FPI. Most people have hyped West Virginia this week because of the Cowboys’ overlook to Bedlam. When you have a performance offensively like Oklahoma State had in Austin, I don’t think you make plans for your rival the following week. Mike Gundy will want this team humming heading into the showdown with the Sooners. West Virginia can be exploited in this spot, ranking 121st in explosive plays allowed. Expect the world to be on the Mountaineers while disregarding their defensive metric. Will Grier has been great for West Virginia to this point, but they run into a stout Oklahoma State defense that is 21st in Rushing S&P+ and 28th in Passing S&P+.
The Pick: Oklahoma State -7
TCU at Iowa State +7
Date: Saturday, October 28th, 3:30 pm ET
Notes: "The road to the Big 12 Championship runs through Ames" might be one of the crazier facts I could never have predicted earlier this summer. Iowa State has taken in plenty of sharp action, pushing this number down to the 6.5 range with a few books posting a 7. S&P+ has this lined at TCU -7, and there should be a public push closer to kick, so wait as long as possible to get 7. Why the love for Iowa State in this spot? TCU ranks 125th in explosive plays allowed. Iowa State certainly is no Oklahoma State in the explosiveness category, but they should be able to expose TCU on long plays. This is TCU’s second-toughest game, with Iowa State ranking 24th in S&P+ (the Cowboys rank eighth). The strength of Iowa State is its defense. Expect TCU to have fits on Saturday in the rushing game, with the Cyclones ranking 26th in Rushing S&P+ and 14th in IsoPPP on defense. This defensive front will be the best that TCU has seen to date. In addition to the Clones giving TCU all they can handle on offense and defense, Iowa State also ranks 10th in punt success rate. Iowa State should dominate field position, eliminate the Horned Frogs’ explosive plays and control the clock with plenty of three-and-outs.
The Pick: Iowa State +7
Penn State at Ohio State -6
Date: Saturday, October 28th, 3:30 pm ET
Notes: Most expected the Nittany Lions to enter this week on a hangover. Penn State comes off a win hosting Michigan where the game was in complete control in the second half. With James Franklin in revenge mode, Michigan was never allowed an inch.
Motivation can be found on both sides of the Penn State-Ohio State game this week. It’s hard to buy into the notion that either team will have a greater emotional edge when Penn State is upset that they didn’t make the playoff and Ohio State is upset that they lost to the Nittany Lions in 2016. Ohio State does come into this game off a bye week. My power numbers make this Ohio State -9, S&P+ -12 and FPI -9. Game of the Year lines leading up to this week reflected those projections. Nothing changed over the Buckeyes’ bye week except Penn State showing the world that Michigan has a hole in its rush defense that was discussed in last week’s CW9. This week the number was released at Ohio State -7 plus juice and quickly took Penn State action. After getting as low as Ohio State -5, the Buckeyes finally took in some action to get to the current number. Expect this to be the most heavily bet game of the weekend, and all numbers between 5.5 and 7 should pop until kickoff.
There are two things Ohio State does poorly: They are 122nd in penalty yards and 119th in punt return yards. Special teams could come into play with Penn State ranking 16th in punting. Penn State’s field position has been the best in nation, third offensively and first defensively, which correlates directly to the punting. What’s the one area where you can hurt Penn State? They are 45th in finishing drives, a stat that takes in points scored past the 40-yard line. Penn State’s mediocrity at scoring past the 40 has been an issue in some of their previous games, and it will be tested by Ohio State’s ranking of fifth in finishing drive defense. Ohio State also ranks second in defensive Rush S&P+ and third in defensive explosiveness allowed. Penn State does not compare to those numbers, as they are 47th in defensive Rush S&P+. J.T. Barrett gets most of the attention when capping this game, but it will be won or lost with the ground game on both sides of the ball. Ohio State will control the clock and keep McSorley and Barkley limited in opportunities.
The Pick: Ohio State -6
Michigan St at Northwestern +2.5
Date: Saturday, October 28th, 3:30 pm ET
Notes: Michigan State has been quite the story so far, with Brian Lewerke under center doing just enough to produce wins. The Spartans have now rattled off four wins in a row off by a combined 22 points since their loss against Notre Dame. More may be required from Lewerke at quarterback as Northwestern has been playing great rush defense the past several weeks. Northwestern is allowing 3.3 yards per carry on the ground, which is impressive given their games with Wisconsin and Penn State. It took Lewerke the full game against Indiana to find the endzone.
There are two ways to look at this game from a situational standpoint: Will the Spartan defense remember the 54 points given up in 2016, or will Michigan State have overlook to Penn State and Ohio State on deck? One of the stats that stuck out to me was Michigan State ranking 120th in Standard Downs Success Rate. Northwestern’s defense ranks 30th in Standard Downs, so the translation is that Sparty will be facing plenty of third and long on Saturday. That is not a good position for them to be in given that they rank 102nd in Passing Downs IsoPPP. This game will be a grind, and I would not be surprised to see the total dip even lower. Take the home team with the better rushing attack in this low-scoring contest.
The Pick: Northwestern +2.5
Missouri at UConn +13
Date: Saturday, October 28th, 6:30 pm ET
Notes: An opening total of 69.5 has skyrocketed to 79 midweek. One of the biggest reasons is Missouri finding its identity on offense once again. After averaging around 6.5 yards per play for the season, Mizzou has averaged 8.1 yards per play in its last three games. Missouri ranks first in explosive plays on offense, but almost dead last in preventing them. Bring in UConn, who loves the explosive play themselves, ranking 20th in IsoPPP in Passing Downs. Both Missouri and UConn have injured players in the running game, creating more opportunities for the passing game. With both teams pushing tempo and explosive plays, there should be plenty of points. The fact that UConn’s passing defense, specifically Passing IsoPPP, ranks 29th in the nation on passing downs, should keep this within 13 points and give the Huskies a shot at the upset.
The Pick: UConn +13
— American Football (@American_FB) October 21, 2017
Mississippi State -1 at Texas A&M
Date: Saturday, October 28th, 7:15 pm ET
Notes: Both Texas A&M and Mississippi State come into this game at 5-2, one win shy of being bowl eligible. Both teams sit at two conference losses and are locked in a fight for the SEC’s slate of secondary bowls. The loser of this game will have the attention of Liberty Bowl officials. Twice we have included Cowbell in the CW9, both times getting to the window. One of the leading rushers in the SEC is not even a running back; it’s quarterback Nick Fitzgerald at Mississippi State. If a defense struggles to keep contain or has a linebacking crew set to play spy, Nick Fitzgerald can have a field day. Kevin Sumlin touched on the issues he will face in this week’s game:
— Texas A&M Football (@AggieFootball) October 24, 2017
The Bulldogs rank eighth in Rushing S&P+ and 18th in Passing S&P+. Not only is this Mississippi State offense dangerous, but they rank No. 1 in the nation in adjusted sack rate. To put that in perspective, in 188 passing attempts Nick Fitzgerald has been sacked twice. On the flip side, Texas A&M’s defense ranks 105th in Rush IsoPPP, meaning they are prone to allowing a big play on the ground at any time. The Cowbell offense should have a super-sized stat box. While my power ratings make this game a pick’em, Mississippi State has all the advantages between the tackles and should have no issues busting plays, similar to what happened against Kentucky:
Sur un 4th et 1, QB Nick Fitzgerald donne 10 points d'avance à Mississippi State face à Kentucky.pic.twitter.com/H3lLg8O8iz
— TBP College Football (@thebluepennant) October 21, 2017
The Pick: Mississippi State -1
Georgia Tech at Clemson -14
Date: Saturday, October 28th, 8:00 pm ET
Notes: The biggest news leading up to the game is the health of Kelly Bryant. The line movement up until kick should account for any news regarding not just the concussion protocol, but the lower body injury he suffered before the bye week. What is not being mentioned about the bye week is that one of the best defenses in the nation gets two weeks to prepare for the Paul Johnson option offense of Georgia Tech. The Jackets have a very efficient offense, leading the nation in Rush S&P+ and Rush Success rate. That plays directly into the strength of the Clemson defense and the strength of their front seven. The Tigers have a defense chalk full of upperclassmen that had no issues with the Georgia Tech attack last year, limiting them to seven points. Clemson should be in the Georgia Tech backfield all night, and that spells doom for a Jackets team that depends on the run. When Georgia Tech does decide to pass, this same Clemson defense leads the nation in sack per game.
The Pick: Clemson -14
Washington State at Arizona +3
Date: Saturday, October 28th, 9:30 pm ET
Notes: The Arizona Wildcats are your Pac-12 champions… that’s tough to imagine, but it’s a very real possibility given the way the 2017 season is playing out. Arizona comes into a fantastic scheduling spot, catching Washington State on the road in #Pac12AfterDark. This will be one of Arizona’s last games at home, as they must face South Division rivals Arizona State and USC on the road. This game is a must win for their chances to play in the conference championship. If there is one specific player Mike Leach and Wazzu must contain, it’s Khalil Tate.
There are not too many glaring differences in the efficiency and explosiveness department between the Cougars and Wildcats. There is one glaring hole in Washington State’s defense, and that is defensive Rushing IsoPPP, which measures how much they allow explosive gains on the ground. This may be an issue for the Cougars, as Khalil Tate and crew rank third in rushing explosiveness. Washington State does have a decent rush defense from efficiency metrics, but these big plays may happen early and often in favor of the Wildcats.
The Pick: Arizona +3