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Free NCAA Pick Tuesday

#636 Kansas State -3 over Kansas 8:00 PM CT

Kansas picked up a dominant home win over Texas Tech on Saturday to break a 2-game slide but the Jayhawks have lost five of six road games this season with only a narrow win at Baylor in early January. This is always a huge game for Kansas State and this year’s Wildcats team has what it takes to break an eight-game slide in this series including losing all three meetings last season. Kansas State battled injuries and offensive inconsistency early in the season but has turned a corner for a 6-0 Big XII run to sit ahead of its rival in the current standings.

Kansas State has only one home loss all season while besting TCU and Texas Tech by double-digits in the past two home games, holding those teams to just 100 points combined. Kansas State has significant defensive edges in this matchup and should negate the ability to score inside for the Jayhawks. Kansas has also been the Big XII worst free throw shooting team which should be a negative factor for the road team in a potentially close game.

This year’s Kansas team has battled turnovers and Kansas State is one of top teams nationally at creating turnovers on defense and the Wildcats are underrated having played part of the season without star Center Dean Wade. Kansas might still also be without starter Marcus Garrett who missed the last game after already losing Udoka Azubuike earlier this season as this isn’t the team Bill Self expected to have coming back after last season’s Final Four run. The line swinging four points from its release pushes this selection down to a Free Pick level however.

Nelly’s Basketball is 56-28 since Dec. 6, winning two thirds of our selections over the past two months. We had a dominant win from a NBA underdog last night to reach a 21-9 on current NBA run along with a 29-15 college run. We had a huge 31-13 February in 2018 and are ready for another big month – join us for all remaining February picks for $229!

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Thursday NCAA – Baylor at West Virginia

Thursday Night NCAA Football – Baylor at West Virginia

This week’s Thursday night game is a prominent Big XII clash as Baylor and West Virginia face off. Baylor looks to build on its season of improvement having already quadrupled last season’s win count while West Virginia is still a Big XII title threat despite its ugly loss at Iowa State two weeks ago. Here is a look at Thursday’s Big XII game to start the final October college football weekend.  

 

Match-up: Baylor Bears at West Virginia Mountaineers

Venue: At Milan Pusker Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia

Time/TV: Thursday, October 25, 7:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: West Virginia -14, Over/Under 62

Last Meeting: 2017, West Virginia (-10) 38, at Baylor 36

 

The Mountaineers climbed to #6 in the polls with a 5-0 start to the season but hopes of emerging as a sleeper in the national picture were extinguished with a mid-October loss at Iowa State. The 30-14 final score didn’t do justice to how badly West Virginia lost as one of its touchdowns came on a blocked field goal return while they wound up out-gained 498-152 in what head coach Dan Hologorsen called “the worst offensive performance I have ever seen.”

 

Having a bye week to regroup should be useful for West Virginia, who still controls its destiny in the Big XII race. Next week West Virginia head to Austin to face the current conference leader Texas while the Mountaineers host Oklahoma in the regular season finale. West Virginia is 3-0 at home with dominant numbers including a 35-6 win over Kansas State and they beat the other one-loss squad Texas Tech on the road.  

 

The offense is led by Will Grier, who has thrown for over 1,900 yards with 22 touchdowns and 10.0 yards per attempt. He owns the third best QB Rating in the nation but has thrown seven interceptions while taking 18 sacks as a lot is asked of him in Holgorsen’s offense. Grier has a very talented receiving corps to work with and big plays have been the norm in this offense that features about a 50/50 run/pass split.

 

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After allowing 20 points in the first two FBS games of the season West Virginia has allowed 86 points in the past three Big XII games. Last season West Virginia surrendered over 31 points per game and 446 yards per game while finishing 7-6 and improvement defensively down the stretch will be the key to keeping the Mountaineers in Big XII contention.

 

Holgorsen is in his eighth season and despite some setbacks he has posted a 58-38 record and has had the Mountaineers in a bowl games in all but one season. Two years ago the Mountaineers won 10 games with a 7-2 Big XII record and getting his team in the Big XII title game would be a big milestone for the program.

 

Matt Rhule stepped into a challenging situation last year at Baylor following the multi-year fallout surrounding the departure of Art Briles. Rhule had a successful rebuild at Temple and was a respected hire if not a flashy choice. His tenure could not have started worse, losing to then FCS level Liberty as well as Texas-San Antonio in the first two games and eventually winding up 1-11 with only a win over Kansas.

 

Several results were competitive for the Bears however with an eight-point loss to Oklahoma and a two-point loss in this matchup with West Virginia. That game was fairly even statistically but West Virginia had a 38-13 lead before a great fourth quarter rally from Baylor.

 

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Then a freshman, Charlie Brewer took over at quarterback in that game and posted solid numbers the rest of the season. This year Brewer has just three interceptions along with 10 touchdowns leading the offense. He has already surpassed last season’s passing yardage total but is completing passes at a much lower completion rate this season while also posting a lower yards per attempt average.

 

Baylor hasn’t been a great rushing team but after averaging only 3.4 yards per rush last season the Bears are posting 4.4 yards per rush this season with a committee approach led by JaMycal Hasty. Jalen Hurd has been the go-to receiver with 622 receiving yards and 47 receptions this season.

 

Baylor and West Virginia had fairly similar defensive statistics last season despite the contrasting records. This season the pass defense numbers are also very close with a slight edge to the Bears in completion rate and yards per attempt but Baylor has allowed more passing touchdowns while generating fewer interceptions. Run defense was the weakness for Baylor last season and this year the Bears have surrendered 5.7 yards per rush, seventh worst nationally and it will be interesting to see if the Mountaineers attack on the ground more than usual this week.

 

This year Baylor has allowed 31 points per game but surrendering 66 at Oklahoma weighs on the numbers. The Bears have already played Oklahoma and Texas while West Virginia is still to play both of the conference heavyweights to factor into the numbers. In its last game Baylor had the ball down six at Texas seeking a major upset. Brewer led the Bears inside the Texas 20-yard line but his final three passes all fell incomplete for a narrow defeat but it was a confidence-building effort as the Bears will feel like they can compete in every conference game.

 

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Last season: West Virginia was in the national top 25 visiting winless Baylor in late October. The Mountaineers led 17-6 at halftime and 38-13 through three quarters to sit comfortably in front. Baylor scored two quick touchdowns early in the fourth quarter with a successful on-side kick in-between the scores. The Bears would add a field goal to trail by eight, eventually getting the ball back with fewer than five minutes remaining. Baylor was able to complete an 86-yard touchdown drive with 17 seconds remaining with a 3rd down score but failed on the two-point conversion that could have forced overtime. Grier threw five touchdowns in the game while the Bears out-rushed West Virginia 127-118 in a contest without a turnover.

 

Series History: Since West Virginia joined the Big XII in 2012 the Mountaineers are 4-2 S/U but just 1-5 ATS in this series. There has been great variance in the spreads with Baylor -30 in the 2013 meeting while West Virginia was -17½ in 2016. The most memorable and consequential meeting was the 2014 upset in Morgantown by West Virginia, winning 41-27 as an 8-point underdog. That was Baylor’s only loss on the regular season and they finished 11-1 and ranked #5 in the College Football Playoff rankings by season’s end. Ohio State controversially passed up TCU, who had been ranked #3 and shared the Big XII title with Baylor, in the final rankings to leave the Big XII out of the playoffs that season.

 

Historical Trends: West Virginia is 33-44-3 ATS at home since 2006, going 28-38-3 ATS as a favorite, and 20-25-3 ATS as a double-digit favorite. Baylor is 16-20 ATS on the road since 2011, going 8-7 ATS as a road underdog and 6-5 ATS as a double-digit underdog.

 

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Thursday NCAA Texas Tech/TCU

Thursday Night College Football – Texas Tech at TCU

This week’s Thursday night game is a prominent Big XII clash as Texas Tech and TCU face off. While both teams are closer to the bowl bubble than the Big XII title game at this point in the season, this will be a key game in the conference pecking order not to mention one of the main rivalry games of the season for both squads.

Match-up: Texas Tech Red Raiders at Texas Christian Horned Frogs

Venue: At Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas

Time/TV: Thursday, October 11, 7:30 PM ET ESPN

Line: TCU -7, Over/Under 62

Last Meeting: 2017, TCU (-7) 27, at Texas Tech 3

This line on this game was released late with questionable quarterback situations for both teams. Since the ‘West Texas Championship’ renewed on an annual basis in 2012 these squad have each won the Saddle Trophy three times with the road team now winning the past three years.

Both TCU and Texas Tech are knotted at 1-1 in league play and while West Virginia and Texas are both 3-0 on top of the standings, those teams will need to face off and both have some difficult hurdles remaining as it is still a wide-open race for a spot in the Big XII title game. The Big XII has Texas back in the national spotlight rising to the top 10 of the polls but the conference as a whole is likely clinging to a long shot 13-0 run for West Virginia in regard to the national playoffs with Oklahoma upset last week.

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TCU looked the part of a Big XII contender and possible national sleeper with a 2-0 start and an 8-point lead over Ohio State well into the third quarter in a big mid-September game in Arlington. The Buckeyes scored three touchdowns in four minutes to send TCU’s season spiraling in the other direction. The Frogs lost to the Texas the following week with a combined seven turnovers in those two defeats before getting back on track in late September with a narrow 17-14 victory hosting Iowa State.

A critical sixth season for Kliff Kingsbury coaching his alma mater started poorly with a 24-7 1st quarter deficit against Ole Miss in Houston on the opening Saturday, with starting quarterback McLane Carter injured. Freshman Alan Bowman was handed the offense from there and posted big numbers including leading notable wins over Houston and Oklahoma State. Bowman was seriously injured and hospitalized after taking a hit in the 42-34 loss to West Virginia with the Red Raiders down to sophomore Jett Duffey for the duration of that game. All three quarterbacks may be available for this week’s game.

For TCU sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson has had mixed results with six interceptions in four FBS games but offering big play potential in the air and on the ground. Robinson was injured late in the win over Iowa State with a shoulder issue on his non-throwing arm and while he has been cleared to return, Gary Patterson has hinted that he may not start this week with sophomore Michael Collins likely to play in the game as well. Collins has only thrown 14 passes this season and not in any meaningful moments.

Texas Tech was anticipating being a stronger defensive team this season as after years of being consistently involved in shootouts, the Red Raiders improved dramatically in the defensive numbers last season. This year the positive gains haven’t been there despite an experienced unit led by linebacker and future NFL draft pick Dakota Allen. Texas Tech has allowed nearly 450 yards per game and 31 points per game including allowing 42 or more points in three of four FBS games.

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Patterson has a reputation for defense and this year’s team has allowed fewer than 21 points per game, holding three of five foes to 14 or fewer points. Texas and Ohio State combined to score 71 points against the Horned Frogs but a 7-0 turnover deficit in those games contributed significantly. TCU has only surrendered 178 passing yards per game this season and that will be the key matchup against a Red Raiders offense averaging 408 passing yards per game. TCU is 14th nationally allowing only 5.7 yards per pass attempt while Texas Tech has allowed 7.7 yards per pass attempt although opposing quarterbacks have completed below 56 percent of throws against both teams.

With Oklahoma up next this is a critical spot for TCU as a 1-3 Big XII start would be realistic with a loss this week. TCU will still have to play in Morgantown in November as a bowl bid could even be cast into a doubt for a squad that was projected to compete for a Big XII title after being the runner-up last season. The stakes may be higher for Texas Tech who still has Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Texas on the schedule. If the Red Raiders fall to 3-3 overall this week they might be in line for another dramatic run in late November with Kingsbury in danger of missing a bowl game for the third time in six seasons.

Last season: TCU was 8-2 heading to Lubbock last November in the game following a 38-20 loss at Oklahoma. The Horned Frogs turned in a great performance with a 27-3 win on the road. The defense did the heavy lifting as TCU managed only 289 yards of offense and led just 10-3 late in the third quarter. TCU completed only six passes in the game in what was Robinson’s first career start and then added a late defensive score. That loss left Texas Tech at 5-6 but they beat Texas in the season finale to earn a bowl bid. The three-point showing was the lowest output for Texas Tech since losing 12-3 at TCU in 2006.

Historical Trends: Texas Tech is 14-8 S/U and 14-10 ATS in this series since 1980, covering in 13 of the past 19 meetings. TCU has won S/U in three of the past four games but has lost S/U and ATS in two of the past three home games in the series. TCU has won S/U in eight consecutive home games since the start of last season but is just 3-12 ATS at home since the start of the 2016 season. TCU is 1-5 S/U and ATS in six instances since 2016 as a home favorite of 10 or fewer points. Texas Tech is 22-14 ATS on the road since 2011 including going 8-3 ATS as a road underdog since 2015 with five S/U upsets.

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Early Big XII Preview

Early Big XII Preview

Many felt like adding a Big XII title game would cost the conference a possible playoff bid but last season Oklahoma managed to survive a rematch with TCU and was selected into the national field. In four seasons Oklahoma has represented the conference twice in the College Football Playoffs but no other team has been selected and the conference is still searching for its first victory on that stage.
This season the conference lacks a clear frontrunner as getting a team to go 10-0 in the always deep league looks unlikely. Last season the Sooners were able to shake off the home upset loss to Iowa State on the strength of their victory over Ohio State in non-conference play but they won’t have that margin of error this season. Ultimately a competitive race looks likely on top of the conference this season and getting a one-loss team in the tournament might be a challenge. Here is an early look at the 10 Big XII teams ahead of the 2018-19 season.

Texas: Tom Herman led Texas to its best win count since 2013 last season even if the expectations were much higher as a high profile hire that led dramatic success at Houston in just two seasons. Texas lost exclusively close games last season and had erratic defensive performances despite being one of the nation’s top run defenses. The offensive production also dropped by nearly 100 yards per game compared with Charlie Strong’s 2016 squad in Austin. This year’s team will be one of the more experienced Big XII groupings. The schedule is similar to last season facing both Maryland and USC again for a tough non-conference schedule but the Trojans will visit Austin as will TCU and West Virginia. Ultimately the Red River Rivalry game will determine whether or not Texas takes a big leap or has another decent season that isn’t up to the expectations of the Longhorns brass.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma was stunned at home against Iowa State last October but the Sooners rallied to return to the College Football Playoffs for the second time in three years. Oklahoma wound up on the wrong side of an epic battle with Georgia but it was an impressive first season for Lincoln Riley who took over suddenly for Bob Stoops last summer. Replacing the #1 pick in the NFL draft plus several other top contributors will be a challenge but this should remain a top offense team with Kyler Murray likely to quarterback the team for one season before pursuing a baseball career. Oklahoma was not an elite defensive team last season and it will be difficult to match the amazing production the Sooners had under Baker Mayfield. The schedule offers Oklahoma a realistic opportunity to run the table but they won’t have a marquee non-conference win like they did last season after beating Ohio State. That could mean little margin for error for a program that always seems to have at least one stumble in the regular season.

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TCU: Gary Patterson has led TCU to 11 or more wins in three of the last four seasons as it would be foolish to count out the Frogs as a serious Big XII threat. TCU loses a lot of key players from a very good defense from last season and they also need to break in a new quarterback. TCU faces Ohio State, Texas, and Oklahoma in the first seven games of the season as there will be opportunities to move up in the national and conference race with notable wins but it also means the Frogs could reach last season’s loss count rather early. TCU has gone undefeated at home three of the past four seasons and if they accomplish that again in 2018 a top three finish in the Big XII looks assured with five of nine games in Fort Worth, although a road heavy September could take a toll on the season goals.

West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen should finally feel some security in Morgantown with winning results in six of seven seasons. Will Grier returns for the Mountaineers after posting some of the nation’s best numbers last season prior to an injury that changed the trajectory of the season. TCU and Oklahoma will visit Morgantown this season as the Mountaineers will have opportunities for big wins with an offense that should be among the most productive in the conference if not the nation. The defense struggled at times last season however and has minimal depth back in action as shootouts should be the norm with Grier capable of being the top quarterback in the conference and a Heisman sleeper.

Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State has won 10 or more games in six of the last eight seasons but they have been stopped at 10 the past three seasons with expectations of a possible breakthrough to a Big XII title or a playoff bid. Highly productive quarterback Mason Rudolph departs but most of the backfield is intact as this can still be an above average offensive team. The defense should remain a stable though not dominant group but the schedule ahead in 2018 looks like a challenge. Five Big XII road games are ahead including several difficult tests and a non-conference game with Boise State lurks as a dangerous September matchup. Matching the 10-win level of recent years looks like a reach for the Cowboys this season.

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Kansas State: Kansas State lost five times last season but four of those misses were by seven or fewer points as the Wildcats found a way to compete even with one of the lesser offenses in the Big XII and a revolving quarterback situation. The offense could be better this season with much more experience but the defense could regress for a second straight season. While Kansas State had mostly close losses last season they also had several narrow fortunate wins as this team was soundly out-gained on the season despite a solid scoring differential. Coach Snyder always finds a way to keep this team in the mix as another winning season shouldn’t be ruled out.

Iowa State: Matt Campbell eschewed opportunities elsewhere to stay in Ames where last season’s 8-5 campaign was a historic rise for the Cyclones. Wins over Oklahoma and TCU were incredibly impressive and the Cyclones also stopped a great Memphis offense for a bowl win. Matching that success will be a challenge and Iowa State plays the heavyweights early in the Big XII campaign this season. Several key players are back as this is a program with average experience and while there were narrow wins last season all five losses came by 10 or fewer points as well as a more dramatic breakthrough had been possible. Iowa State is no longer the conference doormat and will be a competitive team likely on the bowl border.

Texas Tech: Kliff Kingsbury has done enough to stay on in Lubbock with five underwhelming seasons and a 30-33 record. There have been some close calls but still a few blowout losses every year to paint the gap between the Red Raiders and the elite teams in the conference. Texas Tech showed a dramatic improvement on defense last season and with 10 starters back the Red Raiders can take another stride to shake off their former reputation as perennially one of the worst defensive teams in the nation. The offense has some question marks however needing a third new starting quarterback in three seasons and losing most of the top receivers from last season. Oklahoma and Texas both play in Lubbock but that might mean fewer realistic opportunities for wins with a pair of challenging non-conference games in September as well.

Baylor: Matt Rhule stepped into a very tough situation at Baylor and a 1-11 season was the result. Baylor did show signs of progress late in the season and should show improvement but getting back to being a Big XII force looks like it will take a long rebuilding process. This will be one of the most experienced teams in the nation thanks to a lot of young players getting time last season and Charlie Brewer gave the offense life after taking over at quarterback. Statistically this didn’t look like a 1-11 squad that lost to a FCS school in September and if the Bears play all season like they did last November a handful of wins will follow.

Kansas: Kansas has been patient with a major transition hitting year four for David Beaty and a combined three wins in three seasons. The non-conference schedule offers three viable opportunities for Kansas but the gap with the rest of the Big XII remains severe with only one Big XII loss even within 15 points last season. 19 starters return for Kansas as the pieces are there to take a step forward but it remains a steep uphill climb in Lawrence and the best opportunities for conference wins this season will unfortunately all be road games.

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Free NCAA Pick Friday

#872 Texas Tech +2 over West Virginia 8:30 PM CT

These Big XII powers split in the regular season with home court holding in both games but the late February loss in Morgantown for the Red Raiders came three days after a demoralizing loss to Kansas and also came with star Keenan Evans out of the lineup. West Virginia won 78-65 against Baylor last night in what has been a favorable matchup for the Mountaineers who are now 3-0 vs. the Bears.

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West Virginia is just 8-8 since starting the season 15-1 as this team has had great inconsistency and favoritism in this matchup looks out of place in Kansas City. Texas Tech is one of the best defensive teams in the nation and West Virginia has struggled defending the 3-point shot to leave a potential opportunity for the Red Raiders on offense.

Texas Tech was in a prime position to unseat Kansas for the Big XII championship before fading in late February with four straight losses. This is a Red Raiders team that is capable of making amends with a tournament title looking to boost its seeding in just the second season under excellent head coach Chris Beard. Turnovers look like the one possible issue for Texas Tech in this matchup but the 13-5 deficit from the February 26 meeting came with the team’s most important player sidelined.

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Nelly’s is 13-3 in March basketball picks, sign up for March Madness for just $199. Bobby Dalton has an evening Trips-2-Win 2/3 entering Friday on a 19-4-1 run since March 2. Maximum has an evening 2/3 offer as well and the Big E has a pair of picks for Friday’s schedule in a 2-for-1 offer.

 

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#565 Kansas -3 over Oklahoma State 3:00 PM CT

Ordinarily this might be a flat spot for a team like Kansas as they have rallied to win another Big XII title, benefitting from slides from West Virginia and Texas Tech. Kansas won its home finale on Monday but this game will still carry some weight as the Jayhawks are looking to move into a possible #1 seed range in the NCAA Tournament draw. This is also a major revenge spot as Oklahoma State stunning Kansas in Lawrence in early February.

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The Cowboys led by 18 late in the second half of that game with a hot start but nearly gave away the game late in a five-point road win. Kansas has won five in a row since while Oklahoma State has picked up a few big wins they have also lost by 10 or more points in four of the last nine games. The Cowboys have five home losses on the season and next week’s Big XII tournament is the only opportunity for the Cowboys to climb into the Big Dance.

A Kansas offense that has been on a roll with some of the best shooting numbers in the Big XII outside the free throw line and they now face arguably the worst defense in the Big XII as just a slight road favorite. This has been an atypical Kansas team that has been a better road team than a home team with nine top 100 wins away from Allen Fieldhouse and with a much better offensive profile than a defensive profile. This matchup should suit the Jayhawks well in a revenge opportunity.

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Nelly’s is 3-0 in March after going 31-12-1 in February – our 3* College GOY goes early today and we also have a 2/3 Guarantee. Bobby Dalton went 3-0 Friday and has a HIGH FIVE 3/5 guarantee offer to build on great March success historically. Big E has released his 20* ACC Conference GOY for Saturday while Maximum has a 10* included in a huge 10-play card for college basketball today!

 

 

 

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#378 Baylor +9 over Iowa State 1:30 PM CT

The Cyclones lost a heartbreaker last week in a shootout with Oklahoma State while also now being down to fourth string quarterback Zeb Noland, who had some success in relief of Kyle Kempt last week. Kempt could possibly return but ultimately a Cyclones team that delivered a pair of impressive wins this season isn’t accustomed to going on the road and winning convincingly against anyone.

Iowa State was a road favorite of this magnitude against Akron in September but has been a Big XII road favorite of more than touchdown once since 2004 and the Cyclones didn’t cover in that game at Kansas. Baylor hasn’t looked like a 1-9 team in several Big XII games, losing by eight vs. Oklahoma and by two against West Virginia.

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Last week the Bears out-gained Texas Tech soundly but lost by 14. In this home finale the Bears are a serious threat despite the contrasting season results. Iowa State is 2-7 S/U at Baylor since 2005 while Baylor is on a 6-1 ATS run as a home underdog. Barring multiple monumental upsets Iowa State is out of the Big XII championship race while this home finale will be a big draw for Baylor who was -17 at Iowa State just over a year ago for a massive line swing.

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#380 Texas Tech -3.5 over Kansas State 11:00 AM CT

Kansas State got in the win column last week but struggling against Kansas paints a significant gap between the Wildcats and the real contenders in the conference. Texas Tech has lost three in a row to reach a critical juncture in the season. The Red Raiders played right with Oklahoma early last week before failing to score in the final 27 minutes.

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Kansas State won 44-38 last season and has won five of the past six meetings but this is a season-defining game for the Red Raiders and perhaps the Kliff Kingsbury era as a loss this week likely means another losing season. The home team has won four of the last five meetings in this series and a lesser Texas Tech team was favored by five in the last Lubbock meeting two years ago, a 59-44 win for the Red Raiders.

Texas Tech out-gained West Virginia by 117 yards in the loss in mid-October and the Red Raiders have already played three of the top four teams tied on top of the Big XII standings to skew the numbers with Kansas State only playing two of those games so far and both of those games were at home despite getting out-gained by nearly 400 yards combined. Kansas State could have an edge in the running game in this matchup but that will be due to inept passing under Alek Delton who has taken over at quarterback.

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Kansas State has been out-gained in all five Big XII games, losing the yardage battle by 140 or more yards in each of the last five games and Kansas State has already played the two winless teams in the conference. Texas Tech is on an 11-4-1 ATS run at home and while Bill Snyder once held an amazing underdog track record has deteriorated and the Wildcats are just 3-5 ATS in the last eight instances as a road underdog.

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Thursday Night NCAA Football

Thursday Night College Football – Texas at Iowa State

The Big XII is in the spotlight Thursday night, following a top 10 program from the conference falling from the ranks of the undefeated last weekend. Both Texas and Iowa State have more modest goals in the rebuilding process after bowl absences the past two seasons. The victor this week will be in a much stronger position to reach the postseason through the remaining conference slate.

Match-up: Texas Longhorns at Iowa State Cyclones

Venue: At Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas

Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 28, 7:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Texas -6½, Over/Under 63½

Last Meeting: 2016, at Texas (-14) 27, Iowa State 6

The contrast in national presence for Big XII rivals Texas and Iowa State couldn’t be more severe with Texas listed as second nationally in total revenue, just short of 200 million dollars while Iowa State pulled in (and spent) 78 million in the 2015-16 financial calendar. The results the past two seasons haven’t been too far apart however with back-to-back losing Big XII seasons and bowl game absences for both programs.

There is optimism on both campuses this season with regards to the 2017 football seasons with expectations of improvement and bowl bids very possible. Late in the 2015 season Iowa State won 24-0 in the last meeting hosting Texas but it wasn’t enough to save Paul Rhoads who was released after seven seasons in Ames, getting the team to three bowl games but ultimately unable to sustain a run of respectable play.

Ahead of last season Iowa State hired Matt Campbell after four successful seasons at Toledo, ironically a team that beat Iowa State in the 2015 regular season. Campbell is one of the younger coaches at the FBS level and he brought a lot of his staff from Toledo with him. Last season’s transition featured some struggles, starting with a loss to FCS Northern Iowa and an embarrassing 42-3 defeat vs. rival Iowa. Ultimately the Cyclones finished 3-9 to match the team’s 2015 record but there were respectable late season showings with two Big XII wins and several other narrow defeats vs. quality teams including close calls at home vs. ranked Baylor and Oklahoma teams.

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This year’s team avenged the loss from last season to Northern Iowa in the opener, a quality FCS program and then took rival Iowa to overtime. Iowa State also handled Akron in its first road test to sit at 2-1 heading into a difficult Big XII schedule. Iowa State plays five road games in conference play and outside of a mid-October home game with Kansas, this is one of the more favorable home dates with TCU and Oklahoma State also visiting Ames as bowl hopes for the Cyclones might hinge on getting this Thursday night upset.

Iowa State used two quarterbacks substantially last season but this season but junior Jacob Park has held the position with strong numbers, throwing for over 900 yards in three games with eight touchdowns as the offense is starting to resemble the productive attacks Campbell led in the MAC. David Montgomery has been a bright spot in the backfield with 321 yards rushing on 5.7 yards per carry as the offense has featured decent balance, though certainly with a lean to towards preferring to throw.

The issues for Iowa State remain on defense with Campbell’s 2016 team showing no improvement over the marginal 2015 numbers and this year’s team is only marginally ahead of last season’s pace with the toughest games still to come. Iowa State has allowed 402 yards per game with particular vulnerability in the air, currently 112th nationally allowing nearly 300 passing yards per game.

Tom Herman was a high profile hire for Texas in the offseason with Texas failing to make a bowl game the past two seasons under Charlie Strong. Herman went 22-4 in two seasons at Houston after coaching under Urban Meyer at Ohio State for three years. Herman was actually the Iowa State offensive coordinator for the first three seasons under Paul Rhoads here at Iowa State from 2009-2011. In three games at Texas he is already halfway to the loss count he had in two seasons in Houston.

Texas expected instant results from Herman with a wealth of returning talent on the roster but the 1-2 start has featured encouraging performances since a surprising opening week loss to Maryland. Texas dominated San Jose State in a shutout win and then in the last game took a highly regarded USC team to double-overtime, even playing without quarterback Shane Buechele.

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While that defeat earned some respect for Herman’s transition and bolstered his big game reputation, the reality is that Texas has little margin for error remaining on the season. After this game Texas will in succession face three of the top contenders in the conference with games against Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State to start October as a 2-5 record wouldn’t be unrealistic heading into the final five games of the season.

Buechele’s status isn’t clear for Thursday night. He returned to practice this week but is still limited. Freshman backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger has had mixed results with three touchdown passes but also two interceptions and a low completion rate. The running game has been marginal for the Longhorns in trying to replace 2,000-yard rusher D’Onta Foreman as Texas has gained 4.6 yards per rush with the best results coming from junior Chris Warren III. Sophomore wide receiver Collin Johnson has been the big play threat in the offense with 366 yards on only 16 catches. The kicking game has been an issue for Texas with only one made field goal in four attempts.

The numbers for the Texas defense are slightly better than for Iowa State, particularly against the pass and that is even with facing preseason Heisman Trophy favorite Sam Darnold who Texas intercepted twice in the last game, including getting a return touchdown. Texas has scored three interception return touchdowns plus a blocked field goal return touchdown this season and one big play could prove to be the difference in this type of game.

Last Season: A week after Texas had lost a tough 45-40 game with Oklahoma they looked like an upset risk hosting Iowa State riding a three-game losing streak. A tight first half broke open in the third quarter as Texas took turned a 3-6 deficit into a 24-6 edge, eventually winning 27-6 as a two-touchdown home favorite. The yardage results were even more lopsided with a 505-280 edge in one of the best performances of the season for the Texas defense. Two years ago Iowa State won 24-0 hosting Texas as a slight home underdog, the final win for Rhoads with the program.

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Historical Trends: Texas is 11-2 S/U but 6-7 ATS in this series since 1998, with Iowa State covering in three in a row until last season. Texas is on a 16-11 ATS run as a road favorite since 2008 though 1-4 ATS in that role the past two seasons. Iowa State is 7-1 ATS in the last eight instances as a home underdog though producing only two S/U upsets in that run. Iowa State is 11-4 ATS overall at home the past two+ seasons, though 6-9 S/U. In four seasons at Toledo Campbell held a 19-5 S/U record at home, going 12-10-2 ATS. Herman went 6-4 S/U and ATS in road games in his two seasons at Houston.

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Big XII Preview

Big XII Preview

08/09/2016

The Big XII figures to add a few teams in the coming years but in 2016 the 10-team conference will play again without a championship game and will hope for a better showing in the College Football Playoff. Last season there were a few clear cut national contenders in the league while this season there is more mystery with Oklahoma again projected to excel but a few others outside of the spotlight potentially ready to make the leap.

FAVORITE: Oklahoma

The Sooners survived an early season loss to Texas to take the Big XII title last season as injuries hurt a few of the other contenders and Oklahoma wound up 8-1 in the league and good enough to qualify for the College Football Playoffs. Oklahoma had a nice win over Tennessee early in the season but in the biggest Big XII games down the stretch the Sooners faced the top teams with back-up quarterbacks for some major scheduling breaks. Oklahoma was exposed in a 37-17 loss to Clemson in the national semifinals for tough finish to an 11-2 campaign and a tough debut for the Big XII in the short history of the College Football Playoff, a year after the league made a lot of noise about being left out. Oklahoma is a serious threat to return to the national stage but they again have a huge early season test out of the conference with Ohio State visiting Norman in Week 3. Oklahoma also faces Houston in the opening week in a dangerous game with the Cougars again a national threat from a smaller conference and a prime candidate to join the Big XII down the road. The schedule is front loaded as four of the toughest games of the season for Oklahoma will be in the first five games through early October but if the Sooners get by with only one loss they have a great shot to win out and put the program in a similar position as last season. Prolific passer Baker Mayfield is back after throwing for 3,700 yards last season as is top running back Samaje Perine. The Oklahoma defense will again present the most question marks and that unit will need to be up to the task early in the season with the pair of non-conference tests and perhaps the two toughest conference games being the first two games of the Big XII season with the opener at TCU ahead of the Red River Rivalry with Texas in Dallas.

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CONTENDER: TCU

Last season was supposed to be the year for TCU and the Horned Frogs fell a bit short of national goals, slipping from 12-1 in 2014 to 11-2 in 2015 with both losses in the Big XII. While TCU won’t get as much national attention early in the season as last year, the team may have a favorable path for a great season that could feature a rise to the top of the Big XII. Two big early season games at home will determine whether the Frogs are serious contenders, hosting Arkansas outside of the conference and then hosting Oklahoma in a key revenge game after losing 30-29 in Norman last season. Late season road games at Baylor and at Texas will be challenging but if Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill can smoothly take over the offense, the Horned Frogs figure to have one of the better defenses in the Big XII. It was a young defensive group depleted by injuries early last season but late in the year Gary Patterson’s defense stepped up in big overtime wins over Baylor and Oregon. With several other starters from last season absent on the offense it will be difficult to match the huge production of the past two seasons but the top of the conference also looks less formidable than last season and TCU will get to host likely the biggest game of the season on October 1.

CONTENDER: Texas

The Longhorns have made a habit out of failing to reach preseason expectations much of the last decade with a disappointing run for the program, featuring at least four losses in each of the last six seasons. After failing to make a bowl game last season this is a pivotal season for Charlie Strong in his third year in Austin and he appears to have the makings of a team capable of a breakthrough. The opening week game with Notre Dame will determine whether or not the Longhorns have arrived back on the national stage or whether they will simply lurk as a Big XII sleeper. The Big XII season will open in October with a road game at Oklahoma State and a Red River Rivalry game with Oklahoma after Texas stunned the Sooners 24-17 last season. Those two games figure to shape the season for Texas and if they find a way to win both they would move to the forefront of the conference picture as they will get to host the other possible contenders in big late season games with Baylor and TCU. Texas is returning a lot of experience on both sides of the ball and after several highly regarded recruiting classes the pieces should be in place for the results to shine. Texas is only 6-6 S/U at home the past two seasons under Strong however and for the Longhorns to have any hope for a title they will need to lock down wins at Memorial Stadium.

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SLEEPER: Baylor

There has been nothing but bad news this offseason for Baylor with Art Briles eventually ousted after misconduct was revealed and former Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe has taken over. There have been numerous players and recruits opting to leave the program and ultimately there are a ton of questions on and off the field entering the season for a Bears program coming off three consecutive double-digit win seasons. There are enough returning players to expect that Baylor can still compete at a high level and the early season schedule should allow the Bears to ease into the season. Baylor has a light non-conference schedule highlighted by games with SMU and Rice before opening the Big XII season with Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Kansas. A 6-0 start still seems very realistic for the Bears heading into heavyweight matchups in the second half of the season. It is hard to envision Baylor beating Texas, TCU, and Oklahoma in successive weeks but the path to a surprise contending season amidst adversity is possible for a Baylor team that looked like one of the nation’s elite much of last season

IMPROVED: Kansas State

The Wildcats fell to just 6-7 last season for the worst season for the program since Bill Snyder’s first year back leading the team in 2009. Kansas State wound up starting 3-0 and then losing six games in a row before a 3-0 finish to the regular season but very competitive losses vs. highly ranged squads Oklahoma State, TCU, and Baylor were included in the slide. The Wildcats struggled mightily on offense last season, dropping almost 90 yards per game on average compared with the previous season and the defense had a similar regression in what was a very strong conference in 2015. Kansas State has a number of difficult road games but Manhattan should return to being a very tough place to play with the Wildcats capable of winning all of its home games in 2016, through they may be dogged hosting Texas even though the Longhorns haven’t won in Manhattan since 2002. The defense returns most of the key players from last season and the schedule lines up more favorably this season as the Wildcats won’t have to face all the top teams in consecutive weeks as they did last season. Expect a marquee upset at least once this season and an improved win count for a Kansas State program that should be back in the postseason.

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SINKING: Oklahoma State

The Cowboys were a great story last season with a 10-0 start to the season, climbing into the top 5 of the national polls. It was clearly a mirage as they had a very soft non-conference schedule and a back loaded conference slate.10-0 became 10-3 with double-digit losses in the final three games of the season including an embarrassing 35-point loss to Oklahoma and a 25-point loss in the Sugar Bowl vs. Ole Miss. Mason Rudolph returns at quarterback with a veteran roster but the schedule is demanding with five Big XII road games including four of those games likely being against the top half of the conference. Mike Gundy has delivered a great 11-year run in Stillwater with several overachieving seasons so anything is possible but it looks like a step-back season for a program that has alternated strong and mediocre seasons the last five years. Another bowl season looks very likely as Oklahoma State could definitely win all three of its non-conference games and with a few breaks the Cowboys could be a contender but it looks like a much tougher path than last season

SINKING: West Virginia

The Mountaineers are 17-21 in four seasons in the Big XII with a 5-4 2014 season being the best conference result. Despite underwhelming results since Dana Holgorsen led the Mountaineers to the Orange Bowl in his first season as head coach the team has improved in record each of the past two seasons, getting eight wins last year after a wild bowl win. Continuing that trend looks like a serious challenge in 2016 as West Virginia has two formidable non-conference games plus the Big XII schedule that brings the top contenders to Morgantown. West Virginia went 6-1 at home last season and if they repeat that record they could be in the title hunt as they host Missouri, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma, and Baylor. With a productive senior quarterback in Skyler Howard leading a veteran offense West Virginia can certainly score a few big wins but doing so and also taking care of business in several coin-flip road games will be a tall order with West Virginia winning just once on the road last season. West Virginia did show slight improvement on defense with nine starters returning last season but it still wasn’t enough to compete with the top Big XII teams and this year almost all of the key players from the 2015 defense are gone. Expect some shootouts in West Virginia games but the most likely scenario is a fall back to a .500-type season.

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