5 College Football Unit Mismatches Bettors Can Exploit in Week 9
USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Army running back Darnell Woolfolk and Eastern Michigan quarterback Tyler Wiegers
- We continue to get more robust data to determine specific strengths and weaknesses of each college football team.
- We'll examine some of the biggest mismatches of Week 9 that bettors can take advantage of.
- This week features Clemson's defensive line, Army's offense and Texas A&M's special teams.
As we head into Week 9 of the college football season, we continue to get a more robust data set (once adjusted) to determine relative strengths and weaknesses of all 130 FBS teams. Whether you want to look in the trenches, at the skill positions or even on special teams, it’s critical for bettors to understand glaring unit mismatches on a week-to-week basis.
Power ratings should be your starting point, but situational angles and matchup analyses should then help refine your final wagers.
Each week, I highlight five noteworthy unit mismatches for Saturday’s slate, which will hopefully help you make more informed betting decisions. I will point out a major discrepancy in a standard statistic and then provide supporting evidence that the underlying metrics back up.
Let’s take a look at five potential betting angles for Week 9.
Army Rush Offense vs. Eastern Michigan
- Eastern Michigan PK vs. Army
- O/U: 49
- Noon ET, CBSSN
Army’s offense transcends situational “spots” — as the Black Knights simply show up each Saturday (usually for a noon kick) with their lunch pail and hard hat. They are going to pound the rock with their triple-option attack, regardless of opponent.
Army averages 4.8 yards per carry, which does rank in the top 50 but still doesn’t paint the whole picture of how efficient of a rushing offense it has. Since the Black Knights go for it so often on fourth down (and almost always convert), their true yards per play numbers are a little understated relative to those of other teams. They have converted a remarkable 22 of 25 fourth-down attempts this year for an FBS-leading 88% clip.
When capping any Army game, all you need to do is look at the opponent’s rush defense. And if you do that for Eastern Michigan, you will see the Eagles may struggle to get many stops on Saturday. EMU has allowed 5.01 yards per rush this season, which ranks 108th in the country.
Per S&P+, the EMU defense ranks 102nd in Rushing Efficiency, which simply spells disaster against a triple-option attack. Army should be able to move the ball at will on the ground all day in Ypsilanti.
You should also note the disparity on third downs between these two teams, which I think speaks volumes about how this game will play out.
Army ranks fourth nationally with a 53.9% third-down conversion rate. That should only increase against an Eastern Michigan defense that ranks 95th in third-down conversions allowed (41.32%). That is before the Black Knights even get to fourth down, where they have had no issues as I previously mentioned.
It’s the same story on the other side of the ball, as EMU has struggled to convert on third downs at 35.4% (103rd nationally). Those struggles may continue against an Army defense that ranks in the top 10 on third down defense at 28.2%.
Army should once again dominate time of possession (in which it leads the country), as it keeps the chains moving with much more frequency and ease.
Clemson DL vs. Florida State OL
- Clemson -17 at Florida State
- O/U: 50
- Noon ET, ABC
Clemson allows only 2.6 yards per carry, which ranks in the top-5 nationally. Interestingly enough, the Tigers are one spot ahead of Florida State in that category.
The difference is Clemson’s offense ranks second in rush yards per attempt (6.5), while the Seminoles sit at 128th in the nation at an embarrassing 2.9 yards per carry; only Northwestern and San Jose State are worse.
That means Florida State should find itself in third-and-long situations all day long. That’s a nightmare for a subpar offensive line against the best defensive line in the country.
The advanced metrics tell the same story. Per S&P+, Clemson owns the No. 1 overall rush defense — and ranks in the top 10 in Adjusted Sack Rate. Florida State has the 116th ranked rushing offense, and averages 8.0 yards to go on third down, which ranks outside the top 100.
Clemson’s defensive line should have a field day on Saturday in Tallahassee.
Duke Run Defense vs. Pittsburgh
- Duke -2.5 at Pittsburgh
- O/U: 45.5
- 3:30 p.m. ET, ACC RSN
The Panthers really struggle to throw the ball, ranking 119th at just 5.9 yards per pass. For reference, they are essentially tied with Kansas in that statistic.
The Panthers have compensated for that deficiency with a solid ground game that averages a productive 5.03 yards per carry (34th in the country). However, that rushing attack might struggle against a dominant Duke run defense that allows 3.5 yards per carry.
The advanced stats confirm this edge, as Duke has the 10th-best run defense, per S&P+. In regards to Pitt, it has the 41st-best rush offense and 110th-best pass offense. The Panthers struggle to throw even more on Passing Downs (124th), which they will they will have to do plenty of against a stingy Duke run defense.
Duke has a really efficient overall defense, especially against the run. I expect the Blue Devils to shut down a very one-dimensional Pitt offense, especially when you consider the field-position advantage Duke should enjoy with its special teams edge.
TCU Turnover Margin vs. Kansas
- TCU -13.5 at Kansas
- O/U: 49
- 3 p.m. ET, FS1
For the second straight week, TCU makes the list because of its turnover woes.
The Horned Frogs sit at 128th nationally with a -10 turnover margin. Only lowly Rutgers and East Carolina have worse net numbers in the turnover department. Meanwhile, Kansas entered Week 9 tied with Georgia Southern for the nation’s best turnover margin at +14.
I will admit that turnover numbers can be fluky over small sample sizes, but that’s not the case here. TCU simply doesn’t protect the ball, as evidenced by its dead-last Expected Turnover Margin rank of 130th, per S&P+.
Kansas has certainly been fortunate (especially when you consider it has the same quarterbacks who made many more mistakes last season), but the Jayhawks still rank 31st in Expected Turnover Margin.
In regards to the matchup, keep your eye out for Kansas true freshman running back Pookah Williams. The kid is absolutely electric and should hit some big plays against a vulnerable TCU rush defense.
Before last season’s blowout, the three meetings between 2014 and 2016 were decided by a total of 11 points. We will likely see a fourth close game in five years if Kansas gets a few extra possessions as a result of continued TCU carelessness.
Texas A&M Special Teams vs. Mississippi State
- Mississippi State -2 vs. Texas A&M
- O/U: 43.5
- 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
A significant special teams advantage can have an even larger impact in very low-scoring games, which is what we might get in Starkville this weekend. Field position and a key field goal or return could ultimately dictate which team covers this small number.
Based on what we’ve seen this year, you’d have to give the nod to the Aggies as the team more likely to make that critical play on special teams. Mississippi State doesn’t really excel at any phase of special teams — and is particularly poor in the punting game.
The Aggies don’t have a great return game, as the loss of Christian Kirk (now with the Arizona Cardinals) really hurt in that department.
However, their coverage units are strong, and Braden Mann has been one of the best punters in the country. Texas A&M ranks No. 1 in the nation in net punting average at a spectacular 45.26 yards; Mississippi State ranks 77th at almost 10 fewer yards per punt.
As a result, A&M’s average opponent starting field position of 25.1 ranks seventh in nation. The Bulldogs rank 120th. Those hidden yards matter.
The advanced metrics tell the same story, as Texas A&M has the 33rd overall best special teams unit — while Mississippi State ranks 108th, per S&P.
I anticipate many punts in what should be a defensive struggle. Because of its significant advantage at punter, Texas A&M should have the upper hand in field position all night, which just might make the difference.