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Free NFL Preseason Pick

#258 Baltimore Ravens +2 over Washington Redskins 6:30 PM CT

Joe Flacco is likely out a few weeks and Ryan Mallett could be tested as a top starter in the preseason for the Ravens. In his 7th season Mallett has been on the career backup path with just eight career starts. Behind him are Dustin Vaughan and the very recently signed Josh Woodrum with both likely to see action for John Harbaugh, a coach with one of the strongest active preseason records with S/U wins in two thirds of his preseason games at a nearly as strong ATS clip.

Washington has some new pieces to work in with Jay Gruden also posting a very impressive preseason record in three years. Washington has new coordinators on both sides of the ball which could lead to a more serious approach this preseason. The quarterback rotation for the Redskins is rather set with Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfeld playing behind Kirk Cousins with the team paying their starter $24 million on a second straight franchise tag deal. Needless to say he will be protected this August and Sudfeld is likely to star in the preseason with healthy numbers last season with 28 completions, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.

Harbaugh’s track record and the very low home price for the Ravens is appealing with Baltimore also a strong host in preseason games under Harbaugh and the victor in six of the last eight meetings in this local rivalry.

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NFL Close Calls – Week 5

NFL Close Calls – Week 5

10/11/2016

Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread in the fourth quarter last week in Week 5 of the NFL regular season.

Arizona Cardinals (-3½) 33, San Francisco 49ers (42½): Backing the dog and the ‘under’ looked promising early Thursday night as San Francisco had the ball and a 7-0 lead at the two-minute warning of the first half. On the next play an interception changed the trajectory of the game as the Cardinals scored seconds later to tie the game. San Francisco fumbled the kickoff coming out of halftime to hand Arizona another short field score and after a 3-and-out for the 49ers Arizona was in the end zone again midway through the third quarter for a 21-7 advantage. San Francisco answered as the total reached 35 by the start of the fourth quarter. Arizona pulled away with a field goal on another short field and the ‘over’ was sealed with 4:44 to go as the Cardinals completed a touchdown drive to lead 31-14. Nine more points were added in the final two minutes as a game where both teams failed to top 300 yards of offense still wound up with 54 points.

Minnesota Vikings (-6) 31, Houston Texans 13 (39): The Vikings took a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter after a 79-yard punt return as the spread result had little drama in this matchup of division leaders. The total was still in play after a scoreless third quarter and even with a Minnesota touchdown early in the fourth the game was sitting just ‘under’ at 31-6. A 3rd-and-8 conversion for the Texans with just over five minutes to go in the game may have been the difference as Houston added a late touchdown to flip the over/under result.

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New England Patriots (-10) 33, Cleveland Browns 13 (47½): The Patriots took command of this game early as the heavy road favorite cover was rarely in doubt and the ‘over’ looked promising with 23 points in the first quarter. The Patriots added two more touchdowns to lead 30-7 just a few minutes into the second half but a long scoring drought occurred with the uncompetitive game. Cleveland completed an 80-yard touchdown drive early in the final frame and went for two down by 17 in a play that eventually loomed large for the total. The conversion failed and the Patriots added a short field goal on its next possession to hit 46 with still nearly eight minutes to play. Charlie Whitehurst would leave the game for the Browns with Cleveland driving near midfield with about four minutes to go and on a 4th-and-3 play Terrelle Pryor threw a deep ball down the middle. Egregious pass interference that would have put the Browns in easy field goal range was left uncalled and New England ran out the clock as the game stayed just ‘under’.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-9) 31, New York Jets 13 (49½): The Jets led this game until the final minute of the first half and still trailed only 17-13 as they held Pittsburgh to a third quarter field goal after a long punt return. Pittsburgh got past the favorite spread for the first time with an 80-yard drive completed with a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. Underdog backers had some hope with a Pittsburgh fumble in the red zone later in the fourth quarter but New York stalled near midfield and the Steelers added another touchdown to pad the final margin.

Detroit Lions (+3) 24, Philadelphia Eagles 23 (46): The Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead on one of the best statistical defenses in the NFL and with a 21-7 edge late in the second quarter the dog cover and the ‘over’ were in good shape. The Eagles added a field goal before halftime and then took control in the second half, though still trailing 21-20 after settling for a short field goal midway through the third quarter. The Eagles again stalled and needed to kick in the fourth quarter, taking a 23-21 lead that was short of the road favorite spread and kept the total still just ‘under’. The Lions punted and as the Eagles had the ball near midfield looking to put the game away before the team’s first turnover of the season with just under three minutes to go. Detroit hit a 27-yard pass play on 3rd down just after the two minute warning with an unnecessary roughness penalty tacked on and the Lions hit a field goal at 1:28 to take a 24-23 lead, with that kick enough to seal the ‘over’. Those hoping for the Eagles to break loose for a touchdown didn’t get much of an opportunity as Carson Wentz threw his first interception of the season taking a shot down the sideline on 1st down as the Lions won despite being soundly out-gained.

Indianapolis Colts (-4) 29, Chicago Bears 23 (45): The Colts were past the spread with a 19-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter but a few minutes later it was Chicago up 23-19 with 10 points in the first eight minutes of the final frame as the ‘over’ and the underdog suddenly looked very promising. The Colts answered in just six plays with a 35-yard touchdown pass with under four minutes to go. The Bears were still in position to cover but on first down Chicago fumbled and the Colts added a field goal to return to the six-point edge Indianapolis held at the beginning of the quarter. Chicago made a nice final drive but a holding penalty made the 3rd and 4th down attempts long yardage plays and the Bears couldn’t convert, failing to cover as an underdog despite a 522-396 yardage edge.

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Oakland Raiders (-3½) 34, San Diego Chargers 31 (51): The game with the highest total on the board was mostly a field goal contest in the first half as San Diego held a 10-9 edge. Scoring picked way up in a third quarter that featured 32 points as San Diego saw a 24-16 edge slip to a 27-24 deficit by the start of the fourth quarter. A terrible punt for the Chargers handed Oakland great field position and the Raiders looked poised for the favorite cover with a 34-24 edge but San Diego went the length of the field to get back within three and then had the ball back with a chance to win or tie, reaching the Oakland 19-yard line with about three minutes to go. Stopped on 2nd and 3rd-and-short plays the Chargers lined up for a 36-yard field goal but the attempt was botched as a good snap was mishandled by the holder, though most on the Chargers still wound up covering in another narrow escape for the Raiders.

Green Bay Packers (-6½) 23, New York Giants 16 (49½): Seven was the common number on this game most of the week and Green Bay had a 17-6 edge at the half, though the Giants made it just an eight-point deficit before the start of the fourth quarter. Green Bay settled for two short field goals to lead 23-9 with about six minutes to go in the game. Down 14 the Giants would spoil the cover for many with a somewhat controversial touchdown as Odell Beckham made a leaping grab at the back of the end zone. It was ruled a touchdown and withstood review with a very close call on whether his toe connected with the white of the backline. The Packers wound up converting a 3rd-and-10 play ahead of the two minute warning to run out the clock but most wound up with a push.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6) 17, Carolina Panthers 14 (47): The Panthers took a 14-6 advantage late in the third quarter but Tampa Bay quickly answered with a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game heading into the fourth quarter. Carolina had back-to-back turnovers from Derek Anderson in the final frame including an interception on 1st-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 1-yard line to destroy an 81-yard drive. Tampa Bay missed its second field goal of the game on the next possession however. The Buccaneers forced a punt to get the ball back with less than two minutes remaining and embattled kicker Roberto Aguayo nailed a 38-yard field goal as time expired to seal the minor upset with Tampa Bay aided by a 4-0 turnover edge despite usually being on the wrong side of the turnover margin this season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thursday Night College Football – Connecticut at Houston

Thursday Night College Football – Connecticut at Houston

While there is a Big XII game on the schedule there is certainly more intrigue in Thursday’s ESPN game between Connecticut and Houston. The Cougars have the country’s attention as a College Football Playoff candidate outside of the power 5 conferences and this week’s Thursday night game is a matchup vs. Connecticut, the only team that beat Houston last season.

Match-up: Connecticut Huskies at Houston Cougars

Venue: TDECU Stadium in Houston Texas

Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 29, 8:00 PM ET

Line: Houston -28, Over/Under 50

Last Meeting: 2015, at Connecticut (+10) 20, Houston 17

Tom Herman has coached Houston in 18 games with only one loss. That loss came last November at Connecticut as a 10-0 Houston squad fell short 20-17 as a road favorite. The caveat is that Greg Ward, Jr. did not start at quarterback with an injured ankle. He did appear for the final series after his replacement Kyle Postma was also injured late in the game, eventually throwing an interception on Houston’s final drive. The statistics in that game were quite even but Houston had four turnovers although the Cougars also did score on a kickoff return touchdown.

Houston has opened the 2016 season 4-0 with the big opening week statement win over Oklahoma. The Cougars also won in primetime two weeks ago at Cincinnati in a much closer game than the 40-16 final indicated. This will be the first true FBS home game for the Cougars as the opener was at Reliant Field and the home opener was a 42-0 win over FCS Lamar. Houston is currently ranked #6 in the AP Poll and Herman is certainly garnering attention as a candidate for the recent opening at LSU, though those conversations seem unlikely to take place at this point in the season.

Connecticut is 2-2 this season coming off a solid 6-7 season that featured a bowl bid last season, the program’s first postseason trip since 2010. The Huskies are 0-1 in AAC play losing at Navy but they split two games vs. ACC competition the past two weeks at home, beating Virginia but losing to Syracuse. All four games for Connecticut have been single-score games with lower scoring as the season high output for the Huskies is just 24 points, actually a touchdown increase over last season’s scoring average of just 17.2 points per game.

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Connecticut has been out-gained in all three of its FBS games as the Huskies had a 104 yard deficit vs. Virginia despite the win. Bob Diaco is known as a defensive coach as Notre Dame’s former defensive coordinator now in his third season in Storrs. This season’s defense has allowed 6.1 yards per play this season but only 3.8 yards per rush while holding opposing quarterbacks below 60 percent completions. It was the defense that keyed the home upset in this matchup last season but Connecticut is just 2-9 S/U on the road since Diaco took over the program.

Houston’s offense has deserved attention with almost 45 points per game this season but that average is a bit inflated with 106 points vs. FCS Lamar and FBS bottom-feeder Texas State. Three touchdowns also came on defense and special teams in the notable wins over Oklahoma and Cincinnati to boost the numbers as well.

It has really been Houston’s defense that has catapulted the program into the national spotlight, allowing just 229 yards per game this season with incredible numbers against the run, allowing just 1.5 yards per carry and 37 rushing yards per game. Run defense was a strong area for the defense last season as well, finishing the season allowing just 3.2 yards per carry allowed and more impressively not once allowing a team over a 3.9 yards per rush average for the game in 14 games that included matchups vs. strong rushing teams like Louisville, Cincinnati, Navy, and Florida State.

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With the running game likely offering little support, Connecticut will need to make some plays in the air, though last season the Huskies had just one 300 yards passing game all season. At quarterback for Connecticut is junior Bryant Shirreffs who has modest numbers this season, posting a very similar pace to last season’s production figures. He has completed nearly 67 percent of his passes after barely topping 60 percent last season but he also has as many interceptions as touchdowns through four weeks.

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. has won 17 straight games that he has started and he’ll certainly go down as an all-time great at Houston, joining Andre Ware, David Klingler, Kevin Kolb, and Case Keenum. His statistics are modest this season and he didn’t play in the win over Lamar as prospects as a Heisman Trophy candidate are minimal even with some early season attention. With just five touchdowns passes as he won’t pass the records of those highly prolific passers but he is leading a team that can have a historic season on the national stage, with avenging last season’s only loss the next step.

Historical Trends: Connecticut is 8-25 S/U and 10-22-1 ATS in road games since 2010, including 2-9 S/U and 3-8 ATS under Diaco since 2014. Connecticut is just 7-18 ATS as a road underdog since 2010 though going back to 2000 the Huskies are 13-8 ATS as an underdog of 20 or more points, though three of those four covers came at home. Houston has thrived in the road underdog role with incredible recent ATS results but at home the numbers are modest, going 20-7 S/U and just 14-17 ATS at home since 2012. Houston is 9-0 S/U under Herman at home but just 4-5 ATS. Houston is also just 5-10 ATS as a home favorite since 2014, suffering three S/U home favorite losses in the 2014 season under Tony Levine. Houston is 15-6 ATS as a favorite of 20 or more since 2009, though just 2-3 ATS under Herman in that heavy favorite role while going 0-3 ATS in Herman’s home games at that price.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NFL Close Calls – Week 3

NFL Close Calls – Week 3

09/27/2016

Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread in the fourth quarter last week in Week 3 of the NFL regular season.

Buffalo Bills (+5½) 33, Arizona Cardinals 18 (48): The Bills had an inspired performance to take a 17-0 lead that grew to 30-7 in the second half as there wasn’t much drama in the spread result in this upset. Heading into the fourth quarter the ‘over’ looked promising with 43 points and a 60-yard field goal with about 10 minutes to go left the game needing just one more score to reach the number. Neither offense did much in the fourth quarter but the Bills defense turned an interception into a short field drive for another field goal and then added a safety late in the game as the two offensive scoring drives in the final frame came on drives of 4 and 3 yards for just enough for the ‘over’ to hit.

Baltimore Ravens (-2) 19, Jacksonville Jaguars 17 (44½): Baltimore took a 13-7 lead into the half in what proved to be a sloppy AFC clash for both offenses as each side had three turnovers and fewer than 300 yards. By the end of the third quarter the Jaguars trailed 16-14, right even with the closing spread though early in the week Baltimore was at a ‘pick’ or -1 before climbing as high as -2½ Sunday morning. The Jaguars looked ready to pick up their first win of the season taking advantage of a short field halfway through the final frame and leading 17-16 after a field goal. The next three possessions featured three interceptions in the span of nine offensive plays and Jacksonville ended up with the ball in Baltimore territory with about three minutes to go, holding a one-point lead as a slight underdog. The Jaguars took a costly 3rd down sack to back-up the field goal attempt and the 52-yarder was blocked, giving the Ravens the ball near midfield. Baltimore couldn’t pick up a 3rd-and-short to melt the remaining clock but with just over a minute to go Justin Tucker hit a 54-yard field goal to put Baltimore up by two and flipping the spread result for many in the process. Jacksonville’s final drive predictably ended in an interception as the Jaguars fell to 0-3.

Miami Dolphins (-10) 30, Cleveland Browns 24 (42½): The Browns saw an early lead dissolve as early in the fourth quarter Miami climbed past the heavy home favorite spread with a 24-13 advantage. The ‘over’ hit a few minutes later on a Terrelle Pryor touchdown run for the Browns and with a successful two-point conversion the Browns were within three and in good shape for the underdog cover, though the spread varied from -9 up to -10½ at various points in the weekend and opened as low -7 before it was clear that rookie Cody Kessler would be starting for the Browns. Cleveland would tie the game with about three minutes to go and a Ryan Tannehill fumble gave Cleveland a golden opportunity to cash hefty moneyline tickets but new kicker Cody Parkey missed left from 46 yards as time expired. In overtime both teams punted on their first possessions but a marginal Cleveland effort had Miami starting just outside of field goal range and in three plays the Dolphins found the end zone to win, saving a lot of folks in survivor pools as well.

Washington Redskins (+3½) 29, New York Giants 27 (47): This NFC East clash had the makings of a back-and-forth affair and it didn’t disappoint as Washington clawed back from an early 21-9 deficit. Early in the third quarter Washington took its first lead with a 55-yard pass play to lead by two but New York took a one-point lead into the final quarter with a short field goal. Washington hit a field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter to clinch the ‘over’, going back in front by two but New York again hit a short field goal go back in front by one with just under eight minutes to go. Washington turned in a 10-play drive to again go ahead just after the two-minute warning but a two-point lead for the underdog wasn’t immune to a late touchdown giving the Giants the edge. Eli Manning was picked off near midfield however as Washington held on for its first win.

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Green Bay Packers (-6) 34, Detroit Lions 27 (47½): The Packers bounced back coming off the Sunday night loss in Minnesota as they took a 31-3 lead in the home opener at Lambeau Field. The Lions hit a big play to trim into the margin just before halftime but entering the fourth quarter Detroit still trailed by 17 points. The line on this game opened as high as -8½ before sliding all the way to -6 and the game wound up landing in the middle as the Lions scored 10 fourth quarter points and Green Bay was able to take a knee in Detroit territory to end the game.

Seattle Seahawks (-10½) 37, San Francisco 49ers 18 (42): Those backing Seattle felt comfortable with a quick 24-3 edge for the Seahawks at the half though there was some concern with Russell Wilson leaving the game. Those on the ‘over’ saw the pace slow dramatically with only a pair of short field goals in the third quarter as 33 points were scored through three quarters. A Seattle touchdown from Trevone Boykin put the figure at 40 early in the fourth quarter and San Francisco finally contributed to the scoring late with two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to secure the ‘over’.

Philadelphia Eagles (+3½) 34, Pittsburgh Steelers 3 (46½): When backing the ‘over’ in a Steelers game one can usually assume Pittsburgh will find the end zone a few times but at the half the upstart Eagles led 13-3. The scoring pace picked up in the third quarter but it was one-sided with three Philadelphia touchdowns to reach 37 points by the start of the final quarter. Down by 31 points Pittsburgh had to go for it in unfavorable situations and they continued to come away empty while the Eagles were conservative in milking the clock late as the ‘under’ held on with no scoring in the final quarter.

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Indianapolis Colts (-1) 26, San Diego Chargers 22 (51½): This afternoon AFC tilt proved to be the roller coaster game of the week starting with a severe line move as the Colts opened at -3 and dropped all week to eventually briefly hit ‘pick’em’ before climbing back to -2 and then closing back down at -1. For most of the game that timing looked critical with a 13-13 game at the half after a defensive touchdown for the Chargers in the final minute of the second quarter. San Diego missed an extra-point try after a third quarter touchdown as the Colts took a 20-19 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Chargers reached the Indianapolis 4-yard line halfway through the final frame but wound up settling for a field goal and a two-point advantage. The Chargers held on defense to get the ball back but then stalled near midfield to punt back to the Colts with just over two minutes to go. After converting a 4th-and 7 just after the two-minute warning the Colts hit a big play with the help of defender that fell as T.Y. Hilton was wide open for a 63-yard score with just over a minute to go, putting Indianapolis up by four. The two-point conversion attempt failed to keep the total just ‘under’ at 48 but the Chargers still had some time to work with. With still over a minute to go Philip Rivers hit Hunter Henry up the middle for a big gain but he fumbled to end the threat and getting the ball back with one final play the Chargers fumbled again on a desperation play.

Dallas Cowboys (-6) 31, Chicago Bears 17 (45): There was strong yardage production on both sides Sunday night but Dallas had a commanding 24-3 lead at the break and there were only seven points added in the third quarter as the scoring pace slowed. Dallas put the game away with an 88-yard drive to lead 31-10 with nine minutes to go but those on the ‘over’ still needed another touchdown. With the game out of hand the Bears found the end zone to get the total to 48 but any hope of a miracle comeback ended with a fumble in Dallas territory just ahead of the two-minute warning.

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4th Quarter Covers – NCAA Week 4

4th Quarter Covers – NCAA Week 4

09/25/2016

Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread in the fourth quarter last week in the fourth college football weekend. Each week there are several teams that cover despite not necessarily deserving it, as well as other teams that played much better than the final score shows.

TCU (-22) 33, SMU 3: This local rivalry game featured just three field goals in the first half as TCU held just a 6-3 lead as a heavy road favorite. In the third quarter the Horned Frogs hit a few big plays but were still short of the spread with a 20-3 edge. A field goal early in the final frame got TCU closer with a 23-3 edge and then with fewer than seven minutes remaining the Frogs added another three-pointer to lead 26-3. SMU threatened on its next possession but an interception gave TCU the ball back and the game was put away a few plays later with a touchdown strike to hit the 33-3 final advantage.

Utah (-3) 31, USC 27: Looking to avoid a 1-3 start to the season USC led most of Friday’s Pac-12 tilt including holding a 24-10 lead as an underdog late in the third quarter. Utah completed an 85-yard drive recovering its own fumble in the end zone late in the third quarter to get within seven but early in the final frame the Trojans hit a field goal to build a comfortable 10-point lead. Utah would answer with a five minute drive to get within three points but USC moved into Utah territory on its next possession. Clay Helton faced a big decision opting to punt on 4th-and-3 with just over five minutes to go just outside of field goal range. The move looked successful with Utah pinned at the 7-yard line but Troy Williams engineered one of the drives of the season with a 15-play effort that featured two 4th down conversions and put the Utah in the end zone with just 16 seconds on the clock, getting the win and narrow cover in the process.

Virginia (+5) 49, Central Michigan 35: Virginia took command with a 28-0 lead not even 20 minutes into this game with the Cavaliers seeking their first win under Bronco Mendenhall. Central Michigan chipped away to cut the margin in half by halftime and a defensive touchdown put the Chippewas within seven through three quarters. On the first play of the fourth quarter Central Michigan tied the game at 28-28 giving the slight road favorite hope for a miracle comeback win. Virginia hit an 82-yard pass play to go back in front however and then completed two more scoring drives later in the final frame to take control, eventually winning by 14.

Ball State (-3½) 31, Florida Atlantic 27: Florida Atlantic led by seven well into the third quarter before Ball State hit a 29-yard passing touchdown to tie the game. Early in the fourth quarter the underdog Owls hit a 41-yard field goal to lead by three but in the final two minutes Ball State completed a 70-yard drive to go up by four, just past the closing spread.

West Virginia (-9) 35, BYU 32: The spread on this game jumped before game time as West Virginia was a favorite of below a touchdown most of the week for this game at FedEx Field. The Mountaineers led by nine heading into the fourth quarter and made it a 35-19 edge early in the final frame. BYU rallied with back-to-back touchdowns to close within three before turnovers ended the next three drives with a BYU interception handed back on a fumble a few plays later and a late 66-yard drive from BYU ending with an interception at the goal line.

Baylor (-6½) 35, Oklahoma State 24: The favored Bears saw this line drop all week even slipping below seven Saturday. The Bears struck early but the saw the game delayed nearly two hours with lightning. Both offenses were a bit out of sync from there with the Bears holding a seven-point edge at the half but Oklahoma State had closed to within four points late in the third quarter. Both coaching staffs got aggressive in the 16 minutes as late in the third quarter Baylor went for it on 4th-and-short from their own 24-yard line. The move backfired but Oklahoma State didn’t take advantage, going for it and coming up short on 4th-and-2 from the Baylor 4-yard line instead of kicking a field goal to get within a point. Getting the ball back the Cowboys had a productive drive but after a 38-yard run into the red zone Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill fumbled on the next play just before he went into the end zone. Taking over at their own 1-yard line the Bears went 99 yards to go up by 11 and past the favorite spread. The next Cowboy possession ended with an interception and Oklahoma State ran out of time on its final drive despite getting inside the 20-yard line as Baylor escaped with a rather fortunate favorite cover.

Louisville (-31) 59, Marshall 28: This game ended at the closing line but the heavily favored Cardinals were favored by fewer than 31 points all week before a climb on game day. It looked like the number wouldn’t matter as after a slow start Louisville pulled away in the middle quarters and led 52-7 heading into the final quarter. Marshall scored two touchdowns in 15 seconds of game clock with the help of a fumble return before the teams traded touchdowns in the final minutes. Louisville ended the game at the Marshall 7-yard line to leave the margin right at 31.

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Purdue (-3½) 24, Nevada 14: The Boilermakers trailed 14-3 early before climbing within four just before halftime. In the third quarter a short scoring drive put Purdue up by three but it took until the final two minutes of the game for the Boilermakers to get past the favorite spread. With 1:17 left on the clock a 51-yard pass play put Purdue up by 10 as the Boilermakers got the win and cover despite a 4-0 turnover deficit.

Tulane (-3) 41, UL-Lafayette 39: Tulane took a 16-9 lead into the fourth quarter, scoring the first touchdown of the game late in the third quarter. With about six minutes to go the Ragin’ Cajuns were able to tie the game and overtime was needed after neither team mounted a final threat. Few overtime games end with a two-point margin but this low scoring game wound up with a misleading shootout final score as both teams scored touchdowns in the first and second extra sessions. In the third session UL-Lafayette settled for a short field goal as Tulane backers had hopes for a closing line push but the Wave went backwards and needed a difficult 48-yard kick to extend the game. The spread on the game was closer to -5 most of the week and a favorite cover look possible as Tulane went first in the fourth overtime and scored a touchdown with a successful two-point conversion. The underdog Cajuns spoiled that chance quickly with a 2nd down touchdown but a failed conversion ended the game.

Middle Tennessee State (-4½) 38, Louisiana Tech 34: Getting a favorite cover seemed impossible for the Blue Raiders with a 27-7 deficit halfway through the third quarter but this Conference USA clash turned sharply as Middle Tennessee State trimmed the deficit to 10 points by the start of the fourth quarter. While the line was above -4½ most of the week it did fall to -4 Saturday before climbing back to -4½ by kickoff and with a pair of scores early in the fourth quarter the Blue Raiders held a four-point lead. Louisiana Tech answered to take the lead back but the Blue Raiders would return the favor to steal a wild comeback win 38-34, holding on four plays from inside their own 10-yard line in the final two minutes. Most on the underdog Bulldogs still covered but it was a drastic turn of events in Murfreesboro.

Kentucky (-2) 17, South Carolina 10: The outright winner was going to cover in most scenarios in this matchup at the bottom of the SEC East. Through three quarters a low scoring affair was knotted at 10-10. Kentucky had an 11-play drive to take a 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. Both teams traded punts from there and South Carolina was in the unenviable position of needing to go for it on 4th-and-17 just inside of Kentucky territory, predictably failing with a sack to essentially end the game.

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Tennessee (-4½) 38, Florida 28: The Gators opened up a 21-0 early edge in the big SEC East clash and still held a 21-3 edge at the half. While the Gators still led 21-17 entering the fourth quarter the wheels were falling off with momentum shifting to the hosts and Tennessee would score three touchdowns in the span of just over four minutes of game clock in the fourth quarter to completely flip the outcome and pull past a favorite spread that dropped all week. Florida would climb within 10 late but the Volunteers came away with a big win in a tale of two halves.

Auburn (+3) 18, LSU 13: 24 of the 31 points in this game were scored on field goals and an Auburn 3-point kick with under three minutes to go in the game appeared to seal the win up 18-13 after LSU had a 13-12 edge entering the fourth quarter. LSU had one final play from the Auburn 10 yard line as the clock was ticking and Danny Etling appeared to connect with Travin Dural in the end zone for the go-ahead score. LSU would have gone for two up by one and a successful conversion would have meant a cover or push for many on LSU. In a shocking turn of events however replay review ruled that LSU didn’t get the play off in time and the game ended with Auburn on top.

Boise State (-17) 38, Oregon State 24: The Broncos held a 31-7 lead at the half but the cover proved in play late as Oregon State scored all 10 points in the third quarter to climb within 14 and just within the underdog spread. With just over three minutes to go it appeared the road favorite cover would work out with a fumble return touchdown to lead by 21 but on the ensuing kickoff Victor Bolden took it 99 yards to the house for Oregon State and 14 points was the closing margin as the underdog Beavers held on to the cover for most though some early week Boise State backers may have gotten in at -13½.

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Air Force (-5½) 27, Utah State 20: Air Force took advantage of a turnover just before halftime to take a 17-10 lead. In the third quarter both teams had long drives that ended with no points including Utah State coming up empty after an 85-yard drive but the Aggies added a field goal in the fourth quarter to close within four points, and just enough for an underdog cover. The Aggies held on defense and got the ball back but a fumble handed Air Force a 13-yard field and the Falcons took advantage to take an 11-point lead. Utah State desperately went for it on 4th down in their own territory with about five minutes to go and came up empty as Air Force added another three points and a late Utah State touchdown wasn’t quite enough for the underdog Aggies despite a severe yardage edge in this Mountain West opener.

Arizona State (-4) 51, California 41: An expected late night shootout in the Pac-12 took some time to materialize as Cal led 14-3 late in the second quarter before a flurry of points just before the half made it 24-10. California still led by seven entering the fourth quarter and Arizona State didn’t tie the game until about six minutes to go at 34-34. A field goal gave the Sun Devils their first lead of the game with just over three minutes to go, though they still sat short of the favorite spread. Disaster struck the Bears, allowing an interception return touchdown that put Arizona State up by 10. The Bears would answer with a touchdown in the final minute of the game to seemingly hold the underdog cover but the on-side kick attempt was returned 42 yards for a touchdown as Arizona State escaped in a wild finish.

Stanford (-3) 22, UCLA 13: Stanford trailed nearly the entire way against UCLA, netting only field goals with a 13-9 deficit well into the fourth quarter. Stanford found the end zone for the first time in the game with a great catch to complete a 10-play drive with only 24 seconds remaining on the clock. That put the Cardinal even with the common number of -3 though for a while Saturday morning -2½ became available. UCLA made a threat in the remaining seconds as a pass got the Bruins to midfield and then just missed another completion that could have set-up a field goal. On the final play Josh Rosen was sacked and a fumble was picked up and returned for an unnecessary score with no time on the clock, giving an incredibly lucky clear cover to Stanford.

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4th Quarter Covers – NCAA Week 2

4th Quarter Covers – NCAA Week 2

09/12/2016

Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread in the fourth quarter last week in the second college football weekend. Each week there are several teams that cover despite not necessarily deserving it, as well as other teams that played much better than the final score shows.

Louisville (-17) 62, Syracuse 28: The Cardinals stormed out to a 21-0 lead less than five minutes into the first quarter with some big plays but despite allowing huge numbers the Orange managed to stay in the game and eventually trailed by just 14 points heading into the final quarter. Louisville settled for a pair of field goals early in the quarter to keep Syracuse within a score of an underdog cover but turnovers on three consecutive Syracuse possessions in the fourth quarter allowed the Cardinals to add a few more points to create a lopsided final margin though the Cardinals deserved it with an eye-popping 845 yards of offense.

Boston College (-16) 26, Massachusetts 7: The Minutemen struck first vs. Boston College with a big play to take a 7-0 lead but by halftime the Eagles were up by six and the margin inched closer to the spread with a 19-7 lead through three quarters. A strong punt return put Boston College in good field position late in the game and a 5-play 35-yard drive put the Eagles past the road favorite spread with just over four minutes to go.

Arkansas (+10½) 41, TCU 38: Despite dominating the yardage TCU dug an early hole vs. Arkansas to trail 13-0 at the half with the lone Razorbacks touchdown coming on an interception return. The Frogs still trailed by 13 entering the fourth quarter but finally started to cash in opportunities, scoring three straight touchdowns to take a 28-20 lead, past a spread that sat at -7 early in the weekend before a big late line move. The defense let the Frogs down again as Arkansas managed to tie with a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion with just over a minute to go. TCU got a 64-yard kickoff return however and looked certain to take the win but a failed cover, lining up a 28-yard field goal attempt only to have it blocked. After trading touchdowns in the first overtime TCU settled for a kick in the second session and Arkansas found the end zone for the upset.

Michigan (-37) 51, Central Florida 14: The heavy favorite spread on this game eventually climbed to 37 and that is right where the final score landed. The Wolverines reached that margin early in the third quarter with a 44-14 advantage but a long run put Central Florida in the end zone as Michigan led by just 30 heading into the fourth quarter. Wilton Speight threw another touchdown pass with about 10 minutes to go to make it 51-14 and the final three drives for Central Florida ended on downs in Michigan territory as the Knights were certainly in position to spoil the cover despite not quite getting there.

Appalachian State (-21) 31, Old Dominion 7: Coming off the strong opening week performance against Tennessee, Appalachian State had a little trouble pulling away from Old Dominion as a 24-7 lead at the half stayed right there for over 29 minutes in the second half before a short run on just a 39-yard drive put the Mountaineers ahead 31-7 and past the favorite spread in the final minute of the game. The Monarchs came up empty on two long second half drives, stopped with an interception on the 15-yard line and on downs from the 30-yard line.

Pittsburgh (-3) 42, Penn State 39: The hosting Panthers were a bigger favorite than -3 most of the week and they had a 28-7 lead until a touchdown in the final minute of the first half for Penn State. After trading scores in the third quarter Pittsburgh still had a 14-point edge entering the fourth quarter. A touchdown and a field goal in the span of less than two minutes put the Nittany Lions down by just four early in the final frame however. Pittsburgh answered on a short field off a turnover to lead by 11 but with five minutes to go in the game Penn State found the end zone and lined up for a critical two-point conversion down by five. The conversion was good to cut the margin to three points and the Penn State defense held to get the ball back. With the Lions down to the Pittsburgh 31-yard line, an interception ended the threat and the game landed on the closing number.

Indiana (-17) 30, Ball State 20: Indiana had a 30-0 lead in the third quarter but Ball State would score the final 20 points in the game including getting a blocked punt returned for a touchdown as they wound up stealing a backdoor cover on the Hoosiers with the last touchdown coming with just over three minutes to go.

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Navy (-3½) 28, Connecticut 24: A 21-0 lead for Navy was erased quickly as an 86-yard fumble return late in the third quarter became a third straight Huskies score to knot the game at 21-21, returning the favor as Navy had scored on a fumble return touchdown early in the game. In the final quarter Connecticut took its first lead of the game with a 38-yard field goal but after trading punts the Huskies were pinned deep and punting from the end zone Navy wound up with incredible field position late in the game. It took just a 17-yard scoring drive as the Midshipmen took the lead with about four minutes to go, slipping just past the closing spread as well. The Huskies were not done as they reached 1st and goal with 45 seconds to go but the Huskies mangled the clock management burning a final timeout when they didn’t need to and eventually running out of time after running the ball on 2nd down.

Texas (-31) 41, Utep 7: Texas led by just six until a touchdown just before halftime. The margin was still 13 well into the third quarter before the Longhorns had back-to-back short touchdown drives in a span of just over two minutes. The margin was just 27 at that point but Texas would add another touchdown in the fourth quarter to sneak past the big number that rose all week.

Colorado State (-8) 23, Texas San Antonio 14: The line on this game dropped all week to just -8 for the Rams and at halftime it was a tight game with a 20-14 lead for the hosts. The Rams stalled on offense in the second half but the defense stopped the Roadrunners twice on 4th down attempts just outside of field goal range as the margin remained at six. In the final minutes Colorado State added a field goal which was critical for many supporting the home team. An interception by Texas San Antonio in their own territory seemed to offer Colorado State a chance to tack on more points to cover the early week numbers as well but they were able to run out the clock.

Washington (-36) 59, Idaho 14: Washington was up 42-0 at one point but Idaho was back within 35 early in the fourth quarter. The Huskies added a field goal and an interception return touchdown late in the game to put away the Vandals.

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Alabama (-27) 38, Western Kentucky 10: While the closing line dipped below four touchdowns, many had to lay -28.5 or higher on the Crimson Tide. Alabama only led by 17 entering the fourth quarter but back-to-back touchdown drives put the lead to 35 points. Western Kentucky managed to spoil the cover for some however finding the end zone in the final minute on a short field following an Alabama fumble.

Oregon (-24) 44, Virginia 26: The Ducks led by 24 at the half and then by 31 late in the third quarter but the scoring for Oregon stopped from there on as Virginia added two late touchdowns to score the underdog cover. Oregon was to the Virginia 38-yard line in the final three minutes but there was no urgency to put points on the board and they stayed at 44.

Miami, FL (-26) 38, Florida Atlantic 10: The Hurricanes led 24-3 late in the third quarter but Florida Atlantic hit a big play to find the end zone for the first time in the game. Miami added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to slip past the spread including the final score coming with just a minute to go in the game despite the victory being in hand.

Georgia Southern (-12½) 24, South Alabama 9: At the half Georgia Southern led just 10-6 but they added scores early in both the third and fourth quarters to lead 24-6 and past the road favorite spread. South Alabama threatened in the middle of the fourth quarter but wound up kicking a short field goal to leave the margin at 15 points. The Jaguars then were stopped on downs after an 11-play drive to the edge of field goal range and then late in the game a 71-yard drive to the Georgia Southern 6-yard line ended in an interception as the Eagles escaped with a lucky road favorite cover.

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Nebraska (-26½) 52, Wyoming 17: For the second straight week Nebraska turned in a big fourth quarter as they led Wyoming by just seven through three quarters. Nebraska scored four touchdowns in the final frame with a few short fields as Wyoming eventually ended up with six turnovers in the game. The late scoring also turned a likely ‘under’ into an ‘over’.

Utah (-3½) 20, BYU 19: The Holy War was sloppy this season with nine combined turnovers and Utah opening the scoring with an interception return touchdown. At halftime the Utes led by one but they pushed past the slight home favorite spread with a field goal in the third quarter. Utah entered the red zone in the final minutes looking to put the game away but they settled for a short field goal to lead by just seven. Taysom Hill engineered a 75-yard drive in the final three minutes to pull the Cougars within one and the new coaching staff made the bold play to go for two, a decision those on the slight underdog certainly favored as well. BYU didn’t convert as Utah held on but BYU backers collected without having to sit though overtime.

Boise State (-13) 31, Washington State 28: The Broncos led by 10 heading into the fourth quarter and pulled ahead by 17 on the first play of the final frame. Washington State quickly answered to get back within the number and a touchdown pass with about four minutes to go in the game put the Cougars within three. A second straight Boise State interception gave Washington State the ball back and a real shot at the upset but the drive stalled near midfield, though the Cougars had done enough to win plus the points.

San Diego State (-5½) 45, California 40: With the help of a kickoff return touchdown and an interception return touchdown the Aztecs pulled to a 10-point lead at the half and that was extended to a 17-point lead halfway through the third quarter. A 59-yard pass play gave the Bears a bit of momentum and by the end of the third quarter California trailed 38-31, right even with the common spread on the game, though just before kickoff the home favorite number did slip. The Bears scored a field goal early in the fourth quarter but San Diego State seemed to lock up the game with a touchdown drive to lead by 11 with less than three minutes to go in the game. California converted a 4th down play in their own territory and eventually went the distance on a 12-play drive to score a spread-spoiling touchdown in the final minute of the game, trailing by five after missing the two-point conversion. The on-side kick was actually successfully recovered and the Bears reached the San Diego State 22-yard line in the final seconds before an interception ended the game.

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Big Ten West Preview

Big Ten West Preview

08/10/2016

Few are talking about Big Ten West teams as major players on the college football landscape this season but Iowa nearly made the playoff last season and there are several teams that can make a case as a West contender this season. Here is a look at the key teams in this Big Ten West preview.

FAVORITE: Nebraska

The Cornhuskers had a tough transition season as successful but unruly former head coach Bo Pelini was replaced by Mike Riley. Nebraska wound up with several painful losses to go 5-7 in the regular season with every defeat coming by 10 or fewer points including a couple of heartbreaking final minute swings. Nebraska wasn’t conventionally bowl eligible but a spot opened up and the Cornhuskers made the most of it with a 37-29 win over UCLA that should help propel the program to a stronger finish in 2016. Oregon visits Lincoln for a huge non-conference hurdle and Nebraska does play in Columbus but pulling Indiana and Maryland in the other East division games is a reasonable draw by missing both Michigan schools. The road schedule will be difficult with five away games in the Big Ten schedule and all of them against 2015 bowl teams but Nebraska has a great deal of returning experience from a squad that was much better than its record indicated last season. Nebraska is far from a clear-cut favorite in this division but statistically the Cornhuskers looked pretty similar to Iowa last season with the Hawkeyes being on the other end of a bunch of close games to go 8-0 in the regular season. Nebraska will be out for revenge in Iowa City this season after out-gaining Iowa 433-250 but losing 28-20.

CONTENDER: Iowa

Iowa climbed to #3 in the polls last season with a 12-0 regular season but the Hawkeyes fell just short in the Big Ten championship and then lost badly in the Rose Bowl to Stanford for a sour finish to a still highly successful season for the program and the first double-digit win season since 2009 for Kirk Ferentz. There is reason to think that Iowa can do it again as C.J. Beathard returns at quarterback and Iowa managed to succeed with a committee approach at running back thanks to injuries. The defense that came up big in key spots last season returns eight starters and the schedule is manageable with all of the road games of the winnable variety and the big games with Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nebraska at home. Iowa had a great turnover margin last season and seven wins by 14 or fewer points as this was not a dominant statistical team despite the great record. Iowa was flat out lucky in a few big wins as they easily could have had several losses and it seems unlikely that so many breaks will fall in Iowa’s favor this season. With that said Iowa has a veteran group that is used to winning and the schedule is favorable with Ohio State and Michigan State absent and another double-digit win season is possible.

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SLEEPER: Minnesota

The Gophers fell from back-to-back 8-5 seasons to just 6-7 last year and that was after picking up a bowl win despite a 5-7 regular season. The Gophers faced a very tough schedule last season and this year they trade Ohio State and Michigan on the schedule for Rutgers, Maryland, and Penn State in the East draw. Five Minnesota losses came by 14 or fewer points and they were very competitive with TCU and Ohio State while deserving to beat Michigan in a botched finish. The Gophers do face five Big Ten road games including games at Nebraska and at Wisconsin but in a division that looks fairly balanced 7-2 or even 6-3 might be enough to take the title and the Gophers do get Iowa and Northwestern at home. The non-conference schedule looks lighter this season as well and under new head coach Terry Claeys the Gophers have the potential for one of the better seasons in the school’s recent history. Mitch Leidner has been a capable quarterback and several offensive contributors return to this season’s team with the coaching staff that finished last season for the Gophers mostly in place. The defense might not be as strong this season but the numbers might actually be better taking several elite offensive teams off the schedule as Minnesota held TCU to 23 and Ohio State to 28 points last season in very respectable showings.

IMPROVED: Purdue

Minnesota and Nebraska have the best cases for improvement in this division but they both look like possible contenders in the West. In the move to nine Big Ten games all of the West teams are playing five road games while all of the East teams get five home games as the East is likely to have a stronger season as a whole in the league. Purdue is coming off a 2-10 season so improving won’t take a mammoth leap and the Boilermakers also face FCS Eastern Kentucky in the opener. Non-conference games with Cincinnati and Nevada won’t be easy but both games are in West Lafayette and the toughest games on the 2016 schedule are at home and an upset along the way is possible this season. The best opportunities for Big Ten wins may come on the road playing at Maryland and at Illinois but in three seasons Darrell Hazell has just one road win. Purdue has 16 returning starters and this is a team that beat Nebraska last season and also out-gained West champion Iowa in a loss that was more competitive than the final score while also losing by just three at Michigan State. Hazell will need a few big wins to get another season at Purdue and while climbing to a bowl bid looks like a stretch, doubling last season’s win count is possible as the Boilermakers don’t look like the absolutely clear doormat in the conference anymore.

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SINKING: Wisconsin

The Badgers might be just as good as last season when they wound up 10-3 with a Holiday Bowl win over USC but they will be a severe long shot to match that record. Wisconsin soundly out-played Iowa and Northwestern in their only conference losses last season but wound up burned by turnovers and the only other loss came at the hands of the eventual national champion. In his second season Paul Chryst takes on a brutally tough schedule however opening with LSU in non-conference action and then facing Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State in the draw from the East division. They also face Iowa and Northwestern on the road and it will be a challenge just to get six wins to keep a long bowl streak going for the Badgers. The defense lost coordinator Dave Aranda in addition to two of the top players on the unit and while Joel Stave never endeared himself to Badger fans he had the most wins by a quarterback in the program’s history. The running game should improve after struggling early last season and Wisconsin looks capable of a big win or two but they will wind up facing six of the best Big Ten teams in a row and the losses are likely to add up.

SINKING: Northwestern

The Wildcats started last season 5-0 but then lost to Michigan and Iowa by a combined score of 78-10 the next two games. Northwestern won the final five for a 10-win season but the Wildcats were blasted by Tennessee in the Outback Bowl as the team did not hold well up against top competition. Eight of the 10 Northwestern wins last season came by 10 or fewer points including a few wins they probably didn’t deserve, notably against Nebraska and Wisconsin. This year road games with Ohio State and Michigan State are added to the schedule and Northwestern also faces Iowa and Minnesota on the road in division play. Non-conference games with Western Michigan and Duke could be challenging and home games with Nebraska, Indiana, and Wisconsin will not be assumed wins. Ultimately Northwestern figures to be involved in a lot of tight games and the defense will have a hard time matching last season’s excellent numbers when the Wildcats wound up allowing fewer than 19 points per game. Clayton Thorson had some strong moments as a freshman quarterback when he was healthy but he had more interceptions than touchdowns and the already meager passing games losses two of the top receivers from last season. Northwestern has found ways to win some big games in 10 years under Pat Fitzgerald but this looks like team that will likely slip in the standings in 2016 and could be a question mark to reach the postseason.

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Big Ten East Preview

Big Ten East Preview

08/10/2016

The Big Ten moves to a nine-game conference schedule this season and the East division that has produced College Football Playoff teams that past two seasons including the initial champion will be one of the most watched races in the nation. Here is a look at the teams to watch in the Big Ten East in 2016.

FAVORITE: Ohio State

The Buckeyes are 50-4 in four seasons since Urban Meyer took over in Columbus with just two Big Ten losses, both coming at the hands of Michigan State including a costly 17-14 home defeat that cost Ohio State a shot at defending its national title last season. After having three proven quarterbacks on the roster last season the team has junior J.T. Barrett as the clear starter this season but only a handful of starters return with Barrett the only player back that provided meaningful production for the offense last season. Ohio State also has a challenging schedule, playing at Oklahoma in non-conference action while drawing three of the better West teams including having to play at Wisconsin. The Buckeyes also have two sets of back-to-back road games and they will play Michigan State and Michigan in succession in late November in games that figure to decide the division title. Matching the elite defensive numbers of last season may be a challenge for this group but the offense has room for improvement after slipping last season and with the top flight recruiting and several sophomores and juniors ready to step up Ohio State isn’t likely to fall in the standings substantially. The big meeting with Oklahoma in September will likely determine whether or not the Buckeyes are a national contender but Ohio State remains the Big Ten favorite even if a perfect campaign will be a long shot given the 2016 schedule and the lack of starting experience on the team.

CONTENDER: Michigan

The Wolverines made some noise in Jim Harbaugh’s first season in Ann Arbor going 10-3 and recall that the losses to Utah and Michigan State came in very tight games. Ultimately Ohio State crushed Michigan in the regular season finale and that matchup will be the measuring stick for Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan. The Wolverines will open the season highly ranked with one of the more experienced teams in the conference and Michigan is likely to be favored in its first seven games of which they will only play one road game. Three late season road games look like significant hurdles in Michigan running the table however as they are at Michigan State, at Iowa, and at Ohio State and winning all three of those games would be a great feat. Michigan didn’t beat any of the top four Big Ten teams last season as they had a favorable path to success in year one for Harbaugh and the stakes and difficulty will be higher in year two with a tough pull from the West and the two toughest East games being on the road. Michigan should have a fine season but expect a perfect start and possible top 5 ranking to deteriorate in the final month. With everyone facing an extra Big Ten game on the schedule this season the division champions may all have one or even two losses as the Wolverines can still be a serious threat.

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CONTENDER: Michigan State

The 2015 East champions are almost universally expected to sink in 2016 with the loss of quarterback Connor Cook and several key players on both sides of the ball including leading wide receiver Aaron Burbridge and top pass rusher Shilique Calhoun. While Ohio State has a brilliant conference track record in recent years Michigan State is 24-2 in conference games the past three seasons with two conference titles as the program should not be overlooked. Michigan State will face two very difficult non-conference games playing Notre Dame and BYU but the conference schedule for the Spartans is pretty favorable in the first season of the new format. The biggest benefit is that a Spartans team that is 20-1 at home the past three years will host both Michigan and Ohio State as the two biggest East games will be in East Lansing. From the West the Spartans do face Wisconsin but that game will also be at home and the pull of Northwestern and Illinois is reasonable as well considering Ohio State and Michigan both also face Wisconsin and the Buckeyes have Nebraska while Michigan has Iowa ahead in 2016. There are some signs pointing downward for the Spartans but they should not be dismissed from being a serious threat to defend their title.

SLEEPER: Indiana

It will take some chaos for one of the top three Big Ten East heavyweights to not take the 2016 title but Indiana is a team that could make some noise and score a couple of upsets en route to a winning season. After making a bowl game last season the Hoosiers could take another step forward this season as the defense looks poised to improve with the top five leading tacklers from 2015 back. Nate Sudfeld graduated to the NFL but Indiana has capable options at quarterback this season and three 50-reception receivers are back in action along with 1,000-yard rusher Devine Redding. Indiana also will catch the East favorites in challenging spots on the schedule ahead of or after some of the biggest games of the season for those teams. They do draw Nebraska and Northwestern from the West but they also get to play Purdue and they have winnable conference home games with Maryland and Penn State as well. 6-3 might be the ceiling for Indiana in the Big Ten schedule but if the top three teams beat each other the Hoosiers are only a few upsets away from being in the mix. With a light non-conference schedule that features three games Indiana will be favored in, it could be the best season in Bloomington in some time.

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IMPROVED: Maryland

Maryland had a nice debut in the Big Ten going 4-4 in conference games in 2014 with notable wins over Iowa, Penn State, and Michigan. Last season not much went right with only one conference win in a disappointing 3-9 season. That led to a coaching change with D.J. Durkin taking over after being an assistant under two prominent head coaches in this division in Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. Maryland could match last season’s win count in its three non-conference games to start the season and while no Big Ten victory will be easy to get, there are several decent opportunities on the schedule getting to host Purdue, Minnesota, and Rutgers. Maryland had close losses against Penn State and Wisconsin last season while also hanging around with Ohio State and the offense returns a lot of talent led by dual-threat quarterback Perry Hills. Getting to a bowl game is not an unreasonable goal for Maryland and besting last season’s record seems likely for the Terrapins.

SINKING: Penn State

A case can be made that Penn State could just as easily be a sleeper contender this season after back-to-back 7-6 seasons under James Franklin. The schedule in 2016 features a very difficult set of home games however and matching last season’s 6-1 home mark looks impossible. In conference play Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State will visit Happy Valley and while a major upset from the Lions is possible at some point in the season, stringing together several big wins looks unlikely. Non-conference games with Pittsburgh and Temple are not certain wins especially considering Penn State lost by 17 against Temple last season. Penn State lost by a combined 79 points vs. the top three East teams last season as the gap between the Lions and the top of the league was significant even with Penn State’s 4-4 finish for fourth place in the division. This year the team will have a young quarterback with very little experience and most of the defensive starters will be unproven players. Ultimately Penn State looks closer to being on the bowl bubble that to being in the East title race.

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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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AAC West Preview

AAC West Preview

The young American Athletic Conference had a successful 2015 season with Houston earning a Peach Bowl spot and making the most of the opportunity with an upset win over Florida State. The Cougars lead the way in 2016 with a few other programs capable of making a splash in the West division as well.

FAVORITE: Houston

The Cougars went 8-1 in AAC play last season and wound up 13-1 on the season to finish as a top 10 nationally ranked team. That was all in the first season under Tom Herman and expectations will be very high again in 2016. The opener in Houston vs. Oklahoma will determine whether or not Houston remains on the national stage but there is reason to believe Houston could have a bit more of a challenge in the division even if the Cougars are likely on track for another very successful season. Greg Ward will be on the Heisman Trophy short list even from a smaller conference in his senior season and the defense has room for improvement with a few suspect performances last season for a squad that has had charmed turnover fortune in recent years. The AAC road schedule has some hurdles for the Cougars with games at Cincinnati and at Navy as Houston will have the potential to get tripped up a few more times than last season despite being the clear favorite in this division and the conference as a whole.

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CONTENDER: Navy

In its first season in conference play Navy won the first seven AAC games before losing 52-31 at Houston late in the season. With a bowl win Navy wound up 11-2 for the most successful season in eight years under Ken Niumatalolo. Navy will get to host Houston this season looking to turn the tables and avoiding Cincinnati and Temple from the East provides a bit of a break in the schedule. Navy plays Notre Dame and Air Force out of the conference as matching last season’s record will be a challenge especially with nearly the entire starting offense being replaced from last season. While Navy will have a hard time matching last season’s success they should be the chief contender to Houston in this division as the defense should be strong and the biggest conference games will be at home where Navy wound up 7-0 last season.

SLEEPER: Tulsa

The Golden Hurricane made waves last season with a bowl berth, actually giving Virginia Tech all it could handle in a furious Independence Bowl rally, ultimately losing 55-52 as one of the bigger underdogs of the bowl season. Tulsa scored over 37 points per game last season as the offense thrived under Philip Montgomery and another step forward is possible even with a lot of ground to make up defensively. Houston dominated the conference last season while still allowing 384 yards per game as an elite defense won’t be necessary to win this division and Tulsa has a good shot to improve on last season’s 3-5 AAC record. Pulling East Carolina and UCF from the East is a scheduling advantage and while they also draw Cincinnati that game will be the home finale. Tulsa would need some chaos in the division to have a real shot at claiming the top spot but if there are a few upsets the Hurricane appears poised to be the team that makes the leap with another solid bowl season likely ahead.

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IMPROVED: SMU

SMU has just three wins the past two seasons combined but the Mustangs were pretty competitive last season in a switch to an up-tempo offense. SMU allowed big numbers on defense and typically ran out of gas late in games but in the second season under Chad Morris improvement is likely. The home schedule is daunting with three of the conference’s top teams playing in Dallas and with non-conference games against Big XII powers Baylor and TCU a winning season looks like a reach. Expect SMU to perhaps get an upset or two along the way however and the Mustangs look like a good candidate to double their win count from last season. Quarterback Matt Davis did a good job of limiting turnovers last season and the senior dual-threat that was initially at Texas A&M could be one of the most productive players in the conference.

SINKING: Memphis

The Tigers have 19 wins the past two seasons but the program had 12 total wins the previous five seasons combined. Sinking back to the bottom of the conference looks unlikely but staying above .500 is far from a given with heavy personnel losses from last season led by head coach Justin Fuente moving to Virginia Tech and quarterback Paxton Lynch now in the NFL. The Memphis defense actually regressed significantly from the 2014 squad and another year of decline is real possibility in 2016 with three of the team’s top four leading tacklers departed. Memphis has three fairly challenging non-conference games and the Tigers will play Cincinnati, South Florida, and Temple from the East, drawing likely the best three teams from the other side of the AAC. The four conference home games are all difficult and the 10-2 record in Memphis the past two seasons will be difficult to keep up for Mike Norvell in his first season as a head coach.

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