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.
Navy at Houston -4.5
Date: Friday, November 24, 12:00 p.m. ET
Notes: Both Houston and Navy have six wins and have gained bowl eligibility. The Cougars had their regular season opener against UTSA cancelled due to hurricane weather, so the Midshipmen will serve as the end of the regular season. Navy heads into a bye week before facing Army on December 9th. The spot for Houston caught my attention, with Navy coming off a high-scoring SMU game and a road rivalry with Notre Dame. The Midshipmen should be flat in a game that is meaningless to bowl season and the AAC.
Inside the advanced stats, Navy ranks 117th in yards per play allowed. The strength of Houston comes in the passing game, as the Cougars rank 22nd in passing success rate. Houston’s offensive line has an adjusted sack rate of 19th, giving D’Eriq King plenty of time to pick targets. Navy’s passing defense is close to worst in the country, ranking 110th in Passing S&P+.
On the flip side of the ball, defensive tackle Ed Oliver has 11 tackles for loss and 14 run stuffs. This Navy offensive line is 119th in adjusted sack rate. This should be a big day for Oliver, who projects to be a top-five pick in the NFL draft.
The Pick: Houston -4.5
Miami at Pitt +14
Date: Friday, November 25, 12:00 p.m. ET
Notes: Nathan Peterman isn’t walking out of that tunnel as he did last year when an unranked Pitt defeated Clemson, the eventual national champion. Perhaps Kenny Pickett can provide the dramatics needed to pull off another major upset. The advanced stats are not pretty in this one to back the Panthers, however. Pitt’s offensive explosiveness and average starting field position have been close to last in the FBS. Their offensive efficiency has been there – the Panthers rank 16th in rushing success rate, which correlates to Pitt ranking 20th in the nation in time of possession.
Miami has been a stick of dynamite this season, relying on offensive explosiveness and defensive havoc to lead their undefeated season. Two key areas that lack on the stat sheet are time of possession (113th) and third down conversions (111th). When you rely on the big play, sometimes you don’t need clock or a third down to get points on the board.
Pitt will need a monster effort in all areas. The weather should not be too much of a factor, with clear 40 degree temperatures and little wind. We make this play based on the spot. Miami has traveled outside of the state of Florida just twice this season, getting the job done at Duke and struggling at North Carolina. The Pitt environment will present their longest travel on a short week. If we can keep the turnover chain from switching necks on the Hurricanes sideline, we have decent shot at the cover.
— mfr24 (@mfr234) November 19, 2017
The Pick: Pitt +14
Missouri at Arkansas +10.5
Date: Friday, November 24, 2:30 pm ET
Notes: Arkansas gets a win for the CW9 in Week 12, and we go back to the well this week against Missouri. The Tigers have won five straight, qualified for a bowl and saved Barry Odom’s job. Will the level of enthusiasm be there for the visitors now that they will have a postseason? In the wake of a fired athletic director, the Razorbacks played inspired football by keeping Mississippi State from the lead until the last drive of the game.
This is expected to be Bret Bielema’s last game as the head coach of Arkansas. He is a players’ coach, and it is no surprise that this roster is going to give full effort in the last game of the season. The Hogs can do a few things to slow this Missouri offense down, namely running the ball with a Rushing S&P+ ranking of eighth in the country. Arkansas should be able to control the line of scrimmage when running the ball; it created major holes for rushers against a stout Mississippi State front seven. Missouri’s defense is nothing to write home about when it comes to defending explosiveness. Mizzou ranks 123rd and 97th in explosive plays allowed on the ground and through the air, respectively. We will back a motivated #WPS against a Missouri team on holiday travel that may be content with their season comeback to reach a bowl. Let’s stand up and call those Hogs!
The Pick: Arkansas +10.5
Georgia at Georgia Tech +11
Date: Saturday, November 25, 12:00 p.m. ET
Notes: Georgia falls into a long line of teams that have conference championship and possible CFP aspirations but have a rivalry game in Week 13. The Bulldogs take on Georgia Tech, which heads into this rivalry needing one more win to make a bowl game. The Yellow Jackets got the victory by one point in Kirby Smart’s first game of this series. Tech has continued to roll against the number, currently sitting at 11-2-1 ATS in its past 14 games.
Don’t be fooled by the Georgia Tech’s passing offense statistics, including a rank of 129th in pass completion percentage. This offense is based on the triple option attack on the ground, setting up an eventual pass when the defense may not be expecting it. This Jackets team has plenty of discipline, ranking fifth in penalty yards and 13th in opposing third down conversion percentage. Jacob Fromm will be tested once again in second- and third-and-long situations. This was a key area that convinced us to back Auburn a few weeks ago, as Fromm showed inconsistencies in converting those scenarios. Georgia ranks 60th in passing downs sack rate, which reveals a combination of the offensive line’s struggles and Fromm holding on to the football too long. This will be a good test for Fromm before the SEC Championship and a possible playoff berth. If Fromm performs like he did against Auburn, the Jackets may pull off the upset of the day.
The Pick: Georgia Tech +11
Arkansas State at ULM +8
Date: Saturday, November 25, 3:00 p.m. ET
Notes: Back to the well with another Warhawks side after covering against Auburn in Week 12. We have had successful runs in the CW9 backing ULM against Memphis and Auburn, and a lot of it has to do with their ability to stay inside the number with offensive explosiveness. Arkansas State has given up the pass all year, ranking 91st in defending pass explosiveness.
There could be some overlook for Arkansas State, as they face Troy next week for a share of the Sun Belt conference championship. ULM has extra motivation in this game; they’re currently 4-6 and need a win here and at Florida State to become bowl eligible. Those are two teams that the Warhawks believe they can beat. Some of the other advanced stats may not reflect the actual quality of the team, as Arkansas State has the 130th strength of schedule. That will happen when your resume consists of Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Texas State and UA-Pine Bluff. That sheds a little light on how bad Arkansas State’s running game may be, ranking 115th in Rushing S&P+. Look for the home cover on fan appreciation day.
— ULM Warhawks (@ULMWarhawks) November 20, 2017
The Pick: ULM +8
Wisconsin at Minnesota +17.5
Date: Saturday, November 25, 3:30 p.m. ET
Notes: Following in the same line of conference championship overlook, the Wisconsin Badgers travel to Minnesota to end the regular season. The Gophers fall into a similar scenario as Georgia Tech, sitting on five wins and needing one more for a bowl game. Minnesota took a beating last week in a 39-0 blowout loss to Northwestern. I can’t imagine PJ Fleck was easy on his players this week, and he should have them fully prepared heading into Week 13.
Wisconsin had a bit of luck in the cover of Michigan, but also added a few names to the injury report afterwards. Three starters are listed as out, and wide receiver Tyler Johnson is declared doubtful. With the Big Ten Championship game on deck against Ohio State, this would be a great spot for the Badgers to coast. Fresh off a contract extension, Fleck did a great job against Wisconsin in a New Year’s Six bowl in 2016.
The last time that Wisconsin played vs. PJ Fleck…
— Wisconsin SPORTalk (@SPORTalkBadgers) November 22, 2017
The Pick: Minnesota +17.5
Alabama at Auburn +4.5
Date: Saturday, November 25, 3:30 p.m. ET
Notes: The Iron Bowl takes top honors for must-see TV on Saturday. The winner of this game gets a shot at Georgia in the SEC Championship for an eventual spot in the College Football Playoff. More importantly, Auburn or Alabama have had representation in every College Football Playoff or BCS Championship game since 2009.
We will side with War Eagle with several stats backing up the side. The Crimson Tide has injuries all over the roster, especially in the linebacker and offensive line units. This shows in the advanced numbers, as Alabama’s offensive line ranks 105th in adjusted sack rate, while Auburn’s defensive line posts the No. 4 sack rate. Auburn should get to Jalen Hurts early and often. On the other side of the ball, Alabama is 96th defensively in rushing power success rate, while Auburn’s rushing attack ranks 12th in power success rate. (Power success rate is defined as the percentage of runs on third- and fourth-and-short that gain a first down or touchdown.) This is the same stat that led us to back Mississippi State with success against the Tide.
Auburn’s ability to limit Calvin Ridley is key to a victory. No. 1 receivers against War Eagle average four receptions and 51 yards per game. Auburn’s defense ranks fifth and 11th in passing downs S&P+ and passing downs success rate, which should have Jalen Hurts on the run. All of these state point to an Auburn cover and possible win, but keep tabs on Alabama’s offense to create as the game goes on. Their offensive S&P+ rating changes by quarter starting in the first quarter: No. 3 (first quarter), No. 8 (second quarter), No. 20 (third quarter), No. 28 (fourth quarter). War Eagle can get it done on paper, and should get it done as a home dog. If you are new to college football, it’s that time of year to review the Kick 6.
The Pick: Auburn +4.5
Michigan State at Rutgers +14
Date: Saturday, November 25, 4:00 p.m. ET
Notes: How much motivation does Michigan State have to finish off an unpredictable season with victories over Penn State and Michigan? The Spartans will return most of their roster for the 2018 season and will be a force in the Big Ten. They currently sit at 8-3, and with no shot at the Big Ten Championship Game they may have little interest in road travel to New Jersey on Thanksgiving weekend. Rutgers eclipsed their season win total and sit at 4-7, including an impressive 8-3 ATS during 2017. Chris Ash has made strides with his team and looks to build in this spot before recruiting starts.
Both of these teams rank near the bottom in yards per play, and the total reflects a game that might be offensively challenged. Rutgers is spotted two scores in the game, and with a total of 40 (and dropping), that could be tremendous value. Michigan State’s defense has been excellent at limiting explosive rush and pass plays, but it has been a different story on the road with Sparty going 1-7 ATS their last eight times as a visitor.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 22, 2017
The Pick: Rutgers +14
Washington State at Washington -10
Date: Saturday, November 25, 8:00 p.m. ET
Notes: The stakes are high for Washington State in the Apple Cup, as a victory will send them to the Pac-12 Championship Game against USC next week. Washington suffered a loss to Stanford a couple of weeks ago that sets them up as the spoiler in their rivalry game this week. Wazzu has not won in this series since 2012, predating the Peterson and Leach eras.
There are plenty of advanced stats to back up the Huskies when matched with the Cougars. Washington is second in opponent yards per play, negating any large play opportunities for Wazzu. Both teams are in the top 15 in sacks recorded, but Washington State’s offensive line ranks 128th in sacks allowed. The trenches should be dominated by Washington, as the Huskies come in at 19th in offensive rushing explosiveness, while Wazzu ranks 129th. It could be an extremely long day through the air, as Wazzu is 126th in passing IsoPPP with Washington ranked second in defending pass IsoPPP.
All the matchups in the trenches and through the air favor the Huskies, who host this year’s version of the Apple Cup. We may even see a rare punt return for points, with the Huskies’ punt return team ranked 11th in the nation against Washington State’s 127th ranked punt unit. Ride the Huskies to a large victory in this rivalry. Could this be Leach’s last effort at Wazzu before the SEC schools come calling?
— WSU Cougar Football (@wsucougfb) November 22, 2017
The Pick: Washington -10