Tulane vs. UCF Odds, Picks & Predictions: Our Bettors Debate This AAC Spread
Ryan Collinsworth/Action Network.
Tulane vs. UCF Odds
-110 / -110
-110 / -110
Mike, do you hear that?
Readers, can you feel something?
If I were Houston or UCF or Cinci I would build an underground fortress and hide from the giant, massive, humongous, Green Wave arriving
— Tanner McGrath (@tannerstruth) October 22, 2022
The Green Wave! It’s coming! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!
This Green Wave are a literal force of nature. They’re 8-1 overall and 8-1 against the spread, covering by just under a touchdown per game.
The defense is unbelievably effective, allowing AAC-bests in yards per game (307.3) and points per game (16.9) allowed. While the offense is slightly less efficient, Tulane has averaged 32.2 PPG over the last five games.
The Wave recently cruised to easy victories over Houston, East Carolina, Memphis and Tulsa.
Yet, they’re getting no love in the betting market. They’re laying under a field goal against a UCF team that needed some fortunate bounces to beat Memphis and Cincinnati by a combined 11 points.
And Tulane is at home, where it’s a whopping 26-11 ATS over the last five seasons.
Plus, I quite like how Tulane matches up against UCF.
UCF is good but one-dimensional on offense. If you can stop the run, you can stop the Knights, and Tulane can stop the run.
Meanwhile, the Knights are good on defense but susceptible in the pass rush and the secondary. Well, Michael Pratt leads a very effective passing downs offense.
Let’s break it all down.
Before we break down this game, let’s all take a second to vent about what an absolute joke it is that ESPN decided to go to Austin, Texas, for the second time this season to celebrate a team with three-losses instead of taking the opportunity to go to New Orleans for the first time ever for a matchup between two top-25 AAC teams.
What the Green Wave have done this season is awesome. They’re ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1998, and I’m a huge fan of this team so I don’t really want to have to say anything bad about them.
But I suppose that is kind of the point of this article.
These teams are first and second in the conference in scoring defense and first and third in the total defense. They’re both top-45 in the country in Success Rate on defense, and both are stronger against the run than they are the pass.
Where the biggest difference between these two teams is on offense. UCF leads the AAC in total offense, averaging over 500 yards of offense per game.
It’s one of just seven teams in the nation putting up over 500 yards per game. The Green Wave rank sixth in the conference and 48th in the country.
Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee is a dual-threat weapon who has this offense humming. He’s averaging 235 yards per game through the air and 66.5 yards per game on the ground.
While Tulane’s strength is the run defense, Plumlee is so dangerous with his legs, and the Green Wave have given up at least 50 yards rushing to every dual-threat they’ve played.
Keeping Plumlee in check is hard enough, but Tulane also has to contain the three-headed monster of Isaiah Bowser, RJ Harvey and Johnny Richardson. Bowser has 11 touchdowns on the ground this year, and Harvey is averaging 7.4 yards per carry.
This Tulane rush defense is strong, but the Knights have rushed for over 200 yards in seven of their nine games this season.
Both teams want to establish the run first, and this UCF ground attack is eighth in the country in rushing yards and 15th in Success Rate. Tyjae Spears is capable of breaking the occasional big run, but the Green Wave rank just 73rd in rushing Success Rate.
Linebackers Jason Johnson and Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste lead a defensive unit that ranks 23rd in the country in Success Rate and 29th in Line Yards and tackling.
The Knights will have more success limiting Tulane on the ground than the Wave will have keeping Plumlee and these backs from moving the ball.
McGrath: Michael, buddy, you know that UCF’s total offensive production is offset by a 653-yard performance against FAU and a 737-yard performance against Temple.
It may be the best statistical offense in the AAC, but the Knights are only world-beaters because of some statistical outliers.
Now, listen, UCF’s RPO needs the run game to be effective.
East Carolina stepped up a few weeks ago and held UCF to just 130 rush yards at 4.1 YPC, and the Knights managed just 13 points in the road loss.
Tulane will do the same. The Wave are top-20 nationally in both Rush EPA per play and YPC allowed (3.5). The two-headed linebacker monster of Nick Anderson and Dorian Williams will clog the middle of the field. Meanwhile, safety Larry Brooks can roam around and handle Rhys-Plumlee or your cute little three-headed running back monster.
For reference, East Carolina ranks top-50 in most rush defense metrics, including 26th in Rush EPA per Play Allowed. But the Pirates are still below the Wave in YPC allowed, Rush Success Rate Allowed and Rush EPA per Play Allowed.
So, it’s great that UCF managed a million rushing yards against Temple and Florida Atlantic, but it also lost the road game in which it faced an elite defense.
Sounds like something familiar will happen this week.
Yes, both defenses are better against the run than the pass, but Pratt has a better chance to carve up UCF’s secondary than Plumlee does to carve up Tulane’s.
If you put Pratt in passing downs, you’re getting a top-25 Passing Downs Success Rate offense against a 70th-ranked secondary (by PFF’s coverage grades).
If Plumlee gets behind the chains, the Knights drop to 78th in Passing Downs EPA per play, 36th in Success Rate, and are facing the country’s seventh-ranked secondary (again, by PFF’s coverage grades).
If ECU’s Holten Ahlers and Cincinnati’s Ben Bryant can carve up 300-yard performances, so can Pratt.
The best way to stop Pratt is to pressure him, considering the Wave rank 111th in PFF’s pass-blocking grades. But pass rush that’s the weakest part of the UCF defense, where they rank 86th in PFF’s grades.
I completely disagree with your analysis and adore how the Wave match up with UCF’s overvalued offense and defense.
Ianniello: I don’t agree with Tanner that the Knights offense is one-dimensional. Sure, they a run-first team, and that is certainly their strength. But when they do throw the ball, UCF ranks 16th in the country in Passing Success Rate.
This dangerous rushing attack has allowed Plumlee the ability to use play action to open up things down the field. He has 16 big-time throws this season, compared to Pratt’s seven. Pratt is tied with Navy’s quarterback in big-time throws.
Plumlee has a load of weapons around him, led by last year’s leading receiver Ryan O’Keefe. UCF also went out and brought in SEC transfers Javon Baker from Alabama and Kobe Hudson from Auburn.
The three of them are all averaging more than 55 receiving yards per game and have each put up 100-yard games.
The Tulane defense is just 98th in the country at generating Havoc so Plumlee shouldn’t expect to be under much pressure. UCF has a great offensive line and will allow Plumlee to get the ball to all his weapons on the outside when it throws the ball.
Just because UCF is a run-first team and one of the best teams in the nation on the ground, doesn’t mean it’s a run-only team. This team ranks top-16 in the country in it rushing and passing.
Its offense is more balanced than the Green Wave is, and that will allow them to have success moving the ball on this defense.
McGrath: “This dangerous rushing attack has allowed Plumlee the ability to use play action to open things up down the field.” – Mike, Rebuttal No. 1.
That’s my point. That’s why this offense is one-dimensional.
Plumlee can’t pass the ball unless the run game opens it up. If UCF gets off schedule, Plumlee and the offense flounder.
Tulane can and will stop the run and force the offense off schedule. It’s going to be a long day for Plumlee on Saturday.
Plumlee can make all the big-time throws he wants, but he’s liable to make mistakes too. You forgot to mention he’s committed 18 turnover-worthy plays this season. Only six turned into interceptions, again showing that this team has been lucky.
Bringing up the East Carolina game again: Plumlee got shook when the Pirates stopped the run. He finished that game with zero touchdowns and three interceptions on three turnover-worthy plays.
Tulane may not pressure much, but that top-rated secondary has forced eight interceptions while allowing just 13 passing touchdowns. That doesn’t bode well for Plumlee.
Moreover, if you want a preview of what might happen to Plumlee this weekend, check out highlights of Tulane’s major upset win over Kansas State. Despite big, bad dual-threat Adrian Martinez being thrown at them, the Wave held K-State to just 160 yards rushing, which is about 50 short of the Wildcats' season average.
Ianniello: Tulane’s defense has been good again the run, but I think those numbers are a bit miss leading and it’s going to have trouble stopping UCF at the line of scrimmage consistently.
The Green Wave defense has good linebackers, but they’ve been pushed around in the trenches.
When it comes to the big boys up front, Tulane ranks just 84th in the country in Line Yards and 82nd in Stuff Rate this year. The UCF offensive line has been terrific in the running back and ranks 19th in the country in Line Yards on offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Tulane offensive line is 70th in Line Yards and will have the task of trying to handle a UCF front that ranks 29th in Line Yards and 18th in Stuff Rate defensively.
If this game is going to be played in the trenches, UCF has a big advantage and is going to win. Tanner wants to talk about building a fortress? The Knights have one in their lineman.
If this game is going to be played on the outside, well, UCF still has the advantage. I mentioned the three stud receivers on the Knights' sideline, and they’re more talented than anybody Tulane has.
Shae Wyatt and Duece Watts are solid pieces, but neither is a game-changer, and both have been held under 45 yards per game. Wyatt is their leading receiver and would be coming off the bench as a solid No. 4 option in Orlando.
This UCF defense has been bend-don’t-break the entire season. Even when teams have moved the ball on them, it clamps down once it gets into scoring territory and keeps its opponents off the board.
The Knights are 13th in the country at Defensive Finishing Drives, and they have the best red zone defense in the entire country.
Opponents have had 36 red-zone attempts against UCF this season and have managed to score just 61.1% of the time, the lowest rate in the nation. Teams have scored a touchdown just 33.3% of the time.
Even if Tulane does move the ball, it’s not aren’t going to be able to score six when this team puts the clamps on in the red zone.
McGrath: Bet Tulane -2.5
It’s time to stop disrespecting the Wave. This team is out for blood, alongside a New Year’s Six bowl.
Honestly, Tulane has earned both.
This defense is legit and has stopped everyone in their path, including a few offenses similar to UCF’s. Meanwhile, Pratt and the offense have put up enough points to outduel every AAC foe in its path on both sides of the ball.
Tulane is going to be rocking on Saturday. This is the biggest home game in the history of the football program. Yulman Stadium is going to be a zoo, especially after every college kid in town hit Bourbon Street before the game.
Not that Tulane needs any help in that department. The Wave are 26-11 ATS at home over the last five seasons.
Meanwhile, the Knights are 3-5 SU under Gus Malzahn on the road. They’re going to absolutely fall apart on ESPN2 Saturday afternoon. It’d be best if you ride the wave.
Ianniello: Bet UCF +2.5
For me, this handicap is pretty simple. Both of these teams' strengths are running the football and stopping the run. UCF just does both of them better.
The Knights are 15th in the country in Success Rate on the ground, Tulane is 73rd. UCF is 23rd in the country at defending the run and 18th in Stuff Rate, while the Green Wave sit 36th in Success Rate and 82nd in Stuff Rate.
When it does throw the ball, UCF is better at that as well and has much better playmakers on the outside who can take advantage of a defense keying against the run.
What Tulane has been able to do this season has been awesome to watch and is a great story. But I believed UCF was the best team in the American coming into the season and still feel that way.
It’s just the more talented team. UCF ranks first in the AAC in talent score with 13 four- or five-stars on its roster, according to 247Sports’ talent composite. Tulane ranks seventh and has just three four-star recruits.
The Knights should probably be a small favorite here, but I will gladly take the points with the better team.