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Thursday NCAA Football

Thursday Night College Football Opening Night

08/27/2019

While college football had a brief preview last Saturday with two compelling and competitive games, the season opens more officially Thursday night with six games scheduled. Here is a look at the two ESPN contests with a pair of closely-lined battles in rematches of tight games last season.

Match-up: UCLA Bruins at Cincinnati Bearcats

Venue: At Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio

Time/TV: Thursday, Aug. 29, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN

Line: Cincinnati -3, Over/Under 60½

Last Meeting: 2018, Cincinnati (+14) 26, at UCLA 17

The highly anticipated return of Chip Kelly to the college football sidelines was spoiled on the opening college football weekend last season by the Cincinnati Bearcats. UCLA had a promising start in the game taking advantage of good field position to lead 10-0 in the first quarter but by halftime Cincinnati was up 17-10. The game was tied into the fourth quarter before a forced fumble resulted in a safety and Cincinnati would put the game away for one of the biggest upsets of the first week of the 2018 season.

UCLA started Michigan transfer Wilton Speight in that game but he was injured and freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson took over. He wound up playing the bulk of the snaps in the next five games for the Bruins before losing playing time late in the season to Speight, who has been in 49ers camp this August. Thompson-Robinson is the expected starter for UCLA this season and he will look to improve on marginal passing numbers with a 58 percent completion rate last season for only seven touchdowns. He also managed only a net gain of 68 yards on the ground last season despite Kelly being known for using quarterbacks in the running game as well.

The final record for UCLA last season was 3-9 but the Bruins did win three Pac-12 games including beating rival USC in November. They also were very competitive in three other single-score losses in league play including a seven-point loss to eventual Pac-12 champion Washington. UCLA will again play an extremely difficult non-conference schedule this season after losing to three teams that combined to win 35 games last season but this year’s Pac-12 draw is more favorable with Oregon and Washington absent from the North.

In Luke Fickell’s second season with Cincinnati the Bearcats improved from 4-8 to 11-2 including a bowl win over Virginia Tech. One of Cincinnati’s losses came in overtime but in the big late season showdown with UCF they were blown out with a 38-13 result to fall short in the difficult AAC East race. This year’s schedule will be much more challenging even if the Bearcats can make a case for being an even better team. Cincinnati will draw Ohio State in non-conference action next week in Columbus while they must play Memphis and Houston from the AAC West, teams they did not have to play last season.

Long-time Cincinnati starting quarterback Hayden Moore did start last season’s game with UCLA but was replaced early in the game after taking two sacks in five plays including a fumble that handed the Bruins the early advantage. Desmond Ridder took over to lead the win for the Bearcats and played substantially the rest of the season as the team’s main quarterback, winding up with 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions as well as rushing for more than 500 yards.

Cincinnati’s success last season in conference play came due to its defense which allowed an AAC best 139 points in eight games for an average of just over 17 points. That average was just over 14 points per game allowed against the teams other than UCF, and that even includes two overtime contests. In great contrast UCLA allowed more than 34 points per game last season, albeit through one of the nation’s most difficult schedules. The 26 points allowed in the loss to Cincinnati was technically the second best defensive scoring game of the season for UCLA.

In last year’s game UCLA posted 4.6 yards per rush and had a stronger yards per pass average compared with Cincinnati, finishing the game with two more yards in the box score overall. The turnovers were even and the penalty count was close as well but field position wound up being critical with each team having two short scoring drives of 36 yards or fewer.

Cincinnati can survive a loss next week to remain in the conversation for the top Group of 5 team bid but they need to win this game and maintain a run of 17 straight S/U wins in the season home opener. For a UCLA program looking to improve in stature this will be a big win to elevate its postseason prospects and improve on a 2-15 S/U record on the road the past three seasons.

Match-up: Utah Utes at BYU Cougars

Venue: At LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah 

Time/TV: Thursday, Aug. 29, 10:15 PM ET, ESPN

Line: Utah -5, Over/Under 48

Last Meeting: 2018, at Utah (-10½) 35, BYU 27

Utah has been consistently successful under Kyle Whittingham who is the longest tenured coach in the Pac-12, even though Utah has only been in the Pac-12 since 2011. His career record is 120-61 and the Utes have had five straight winning seasons, while winning the Pac-12 south for the first time last year. The expectations continue to grow for the program in a potentially wide-open race out west with the Utes opening the season in the top 15 of the polls.

Utah closed the regular season with BYU last November and managed to erase a 20-0 deficit to come back and win. It is worth noting that the Utes clinched the Pac-12 South the prior week and had their first appearance in the Pac-12 championship six days following this rivalry game and that perhaps showed in the slow start. The final score was misleading as BYU had a 357-296 yardage edge and Utah added a late touchdown after BYU fell a yard short of converting a 4th down on its own side of the field. Utah had a field goal blocked but also had a pick-6 that cut into the 20-0 deficit to start the game.

The other caveat is that Jason Shelley started the game for Utah at quarterback as a freshman that had played in only two prior games as Utah was without Tyler Huntley as well as last year’s top running back Zack Moss for the game. Huntley had produced very solid numbers the past two seasons and is healthy and one of the top returning leaders in the conference, and Moss is also back as the lead back on the team. Top receiver Britain Covey also appears cleared to play for the Utes after recovering from knee surgery.

BYU had some ups-and-downs last season with a 3-1 start that included wins at Arizona and then at Wisconsin. BYU was blown out in the next two games and wound up losing four of the next five before sneaking into the bowl picture at 6-6, where they soundly defeated Western Michigan. The Tanner Mangum era at BYU is over as despite some nice moments the long-time starter was a consistent turnover risk. Zach Wilson took over midseason as a freshman last season and wound up with good numbers, albeit mostly facing some of the lesser teams on the season schedule.

Playing as an independent BYU’s opportunities against major conference teams come early in the season and they have a heavyweight path in the first half of the season facing Utah, Tennessee, USC, and Washington in the first four games, though three of those games will be in Provo. Add in contests vs. Toledo, South Florida, Boise State, and Utah State in the next block of the schedule and getting back to .500 is far from a given for this team in the fourth season for Kitani Sitake, who is 20-19 in his career.

BYU outscored foes 354-278 last season but the unbalanced scheduled meant a few blowouts. This contest carries great weight as a long-time rivalry with this year’s game actually the 100th all-time meeting between these nearby schools. Utah owns a substantial edge in that ledger including eight consecutive wins with the last BYU victory coming in 2009. Each of the past six Utah wins has come by eight or fewer points as a close game has been the norm in recent years.  

The stakes are high in this year’s ‘Holy War’ as BYU seems likely to be dogged each of the next three weeks as a 0-4 start is certainly possible. For Utah a chance to breakthrough on a national level this season seems attainable with this game being one of three most dangerous road games on the season. The Pac-12 draw misses both Stanford and Oregon for a preferable path as a double-digit win season is realistic and running the table isn’t out of the question for an experienced group if they can first get by their historical rival.

Other Games Thursday

Georgia Tech at Clemson: Clemson will open up its defense of last season’s national title in a game that many won’t be able to see with the launch of the ACC Network with few active providers carrying the new channel. The spread doesn’t suggest a compelling game in the debut for Geoff Collins leading Georgia Tech but Clemson did lose to the Yellow Jackets in 2014 and the past two regular season defeats for the program were unassuming contests in which the Tigers were at least three-TD favorites.

Florida International at Tulane: The Panthers won as a double-digit underdog hosting this matchup two years ago and this closely-lined contest will be an important win for the victor in a battle of a pair of programs potentially headed to the bowl bubble by season’s end. Both teams have difficult non-conference games ahead as this will be a big swing game for teams looking to take another step forward.

Texas State at Texas A&M: Jake Spavital is the new Texas State head coach and he was an assistant at Texas A&M for three seasons under Kevin Sumlin. The Bobcats project as one of the teams at the bottom of the FBS rankings but this was a fairly competitive team with several narrow losses last season. Texas A&M will likely have few games like this taking on one of the nation’s toughest schedules in year two for Jimbo Fisher.

Kent State at Arizona State: True freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels will be worth watching as the new starter for Arizona State, a program that should remain in the Pac-12 South mix in year two under Herm Edwards. Kent State played up-tempo last season for Sean Lewis and brings back a lot of experience following a tough 2-10 campaign that did feature great strides offensively compared with the 2017 numbers.

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Free NCAA Pick Thursday

#629 California +11.5 over Stanford 10:00 PM CT

A great comeback bid fell short for Stanford Sunday hosting Pac-12 leader Washington with a 62-61 final score. Stanford can reach .500 in conference play for the season and maintain an above .500 overall record with a win in this finale but covering by double-digits may be a big ask for this erratic group.

Stanford has posted six double-digit wins in Pac-12 play but has also lost three home games and playing at California the Cardinal won 84-81 just over a month ago. California led by seven with about six minutes to go in that games, then seeking its first conference win. The Bears have gone 2-0 since losing the first 15 conference games and California has lost by more than 11 just twice in the past nine games.

The strength of the Bears is creating turnovers on defense and that was a factor in the first meeting between these teams with an 18-11 edge for California. Stanford had a 30-19 edge in free throw attempts in that three-point win and this rivalry game should favor the heavy underdog especially if Daejon Davis again sits out.

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Thursday College Football Preview

Thursday Night College Football – Mississippi State at Mississippi

Mississippi State and Mississippi will be playing on Thanksgiving night for the second straight season as one of nation’s longest uninterrupted rivalries will be featured in the final Thursday night regular season game of the season. The Egg Bowl features great intensity and has featured numerous memorable games in recent years. Here is a look at Thursday Night Football between Mississippi and Mississippi State.

Match-up: Mississippi State Bulldogs at Mississippi Rebels

Venue: At Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi

Time/TV: Thursday, November 22, 7:30 PM ET ESPN

Line: Mississippi State -11, Over/Under 59

Last Meeting: 2017, Mississippi (+15) 31, at Mississippi State 28

After a post-game brawl in 1926 Ole Miss and Mississippi A&M (now Mississippi State) created a Golden Egg trophy for the victor although the rivalry game wasn’t referred to colloquially as the ‘Egg Bowl’ until 1979. While both programs have had some ups and downs the 2014 meeting was one of the high points of the rivalry with two highly ranked teams with #19 Ole Miss upsetting then #4 Mississippi State 31-17. This year’s game doesn’t carry the same weight but the intensity on the field will remain strong.

After a messy off-season in 2017 Matt Luke took over as the interim head coach for Ole Miss with the Rebels finishing 6-6 after winning this season finale vs. a ranked Mississippi State squad for the third win in the past four years of this rivalry. Luke was retained to lead the program moving forward and it has been an up-and-down season. A win this week at home will get the Rebels to 6-6 again though Mississippi is still in the midst of a postseason ban.

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There were big changes for Mississippi State ahead of this season as Dan Mullen departed after nine solid seasons in Starkville, taking over at Florida. Joe Moorhead was hired to lead the program following a four-year stint as Fordham’s head coach from 2012 to 2015 while serving as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Penn State under James Franklin the previous two years.

Moorhead inherited a great senior quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald to lead his offense but while Fitzgerald has been productive, he hasn’t had the same statistical success he had in his best season in 2016. He’ll likely surpass his rushing and passing totals from last season by the end of the season but his per carry average has gone down substantially, as has his passing completion rate.

Despite Moorhead’s offensive background the Bulldogs are 7-4 mainly thanks to the SEC’s second best scoring defense, allowing just 16 points per game in league play. 28 points allowed at Kentucky in the SEC opener has been the season high allowed by the Bulldogs, who held Alabama to a season low 24 points earlier this month. Mississippi State has only scored 17 points per game on average in SEC play however as the least productive offensive team in the entire SEC.

Mississippi has averaged nearly 37 points per game this season although just 25 points per game in SEC play. The Rebels are surrendering more than 36 points per game however and in SEC play that average is nearly 42 points per game as this matchup will feature a great clash of style and pace.

Mississippi is just 1-6 in SEC play only beating Arkansas and that win featured a wild comeback, trailing by nine with five minutes to go. Ole Miss has lost the past four games but two of those results have been single-score games including losing in overtime last week at Vanderbilt.

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Jordan Ta’amu has been very productive at quarterback for the Rebels as he’ll likely eclipse 4,000 yards passing this week, while posting nearly 9.6 yards per attempt. Ta’amu isn’t the ground presence that Fitzgerald is but he has rushed for 366 yards while Scottie Phillips is close to 1,000 rushing yards out of the backfield. A. J. Brown leads a talented receiving corps with 81 catches for 1,259 receiving yards, the fifth most yards nationally.

Mississippi State can clinch a winning season in SEC play with a victory this week to get to 5-3 with Mullen surprisingly only topping 4-4 in SEC play once in nine seasons in 2014. The Bulldogs would also finish at worst tied for third in the SEC West with a win with Mullen only finishing above 4th place in that 2014 season to potentially boost its bowl standing.

2016 Meeting: This was a bowl elimination game between 5-6 teams last season in Oxford. It was a back-and-forth first half with a 27-20 lead for Mississippi State. That score held until just over five minutes to go in the third quarter before the Bulldogs went on a 28-0 run the close the game for a somewhat misleading 55-20 final result. Mississippi State had just a 566-528 yardage edge and benefitted from a 2-1 turnover edge including a 4th quarter pick-six. Nick Fitzgerald rushed for 258 yards and accounted for five touchdowns while current Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson threw for 320 yards for the Rebels but had two interceptions to match his two touchdowns.

Last Season: Mississippi took an early 10-0 lead but the Bulldogs got a pair of field goals before halftime to trail 10-6.  A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf scored on receptions of 77 yards and 63 yards from Jordan Ta’amu in the final eight minutes of the third quarter as the Rebels led 24-6. Mississippi State made a late rally to close to within three points with just over a minute remaining but didn’t get the on-side kick attempt. Mississippi State had a 501-355 edge in yardage and a 27-11 edge in first downs but had five turnovers.

Historical Trends: Ole Miss owns a 21-17 S/U and 22-15-1 ATS edge in this series since 1980 including winning and covering in four of the past six meetings. Mississippi State won 55-20 two years ago in Oxford but is 2-7 S/U and 2-6-1 ATS in the last nine road meetings in this series. This will be the biggest road favorite spread for the Bulldogs in this series as far back as there is data to 1980. Mississippi State is 1-5 ATS in the past six games as a double-digit favorite including losing 28-7 at Kentucky this September in the most recent instance. Mississippi is 0-5 ATS in the past five games as a home underdog including going 0-2 S/U and ATS this season. Mississippi is 8-5 ATS as a double-digit home underdog since 2006.

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Thursday NCAA Tulane vs. Houston

Thursday Night College Football – Tulane at Houston

11/14/2018

This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes out of the American Athletic Conference with a West division battle between Tulane and Houston. Both teams are in a three-way tie with SMU at 4-2 on top of the division standings as the victor can remain in the mix for the division title. Here is a look at tonight’s game to start a big mid-November college football weekend.

 

Match-up: Tulane Green Wave at Houston Cougars

Venue: At TDECU Stadium in Houston, Texas

Time/TV: Thursday, November 15, 8:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Houston -10, Over/Under 67½

Last Meeting: 2017, at Tulane (+9) 20, Houston 17

 

The American Athletic Conference West has had three different division champions in three years and a fourth new participant to the AAC title game is possible out of the West this season. SMU, Houston, and Tulane are all tied at 4-2 with SMU having wins over both Houston and Tulane. The Mustangs have a difficult game with Memphis this Friday before heading on the road to face Tulsa next week as a loss is certainly possible to open the door for the winner of this game.

 

Along with Memphis, Houston was considered one of the favorites in the West riding five consecutive winning seasons even after a step-back to 7-5 last season in the first season under Major Applewhite. Houston won the inaugural AAC Championship game in 2015 and grabbed headlines nationally in 2016 with notable wins over Oklahoma and Louisville.

 

Houston struggled to find a quarterback early last season but D’Eriq King emerged in late October, keying the upset over South Florida and finishing the season with strong results in the air and on the ground. Now a junior King has big numbers, accounting for 48 touchdowns but his passing numbers are slightly down and he has six interceptions this season. He is a threat on the ground as well with 13 rushing touchdowns on 5.9 yards per carry and he ranks 6th nationally in QB Rating behind five players on College Football Playoff contending teams.

 

Offense hasn’t been an issue for Houston, averaging nearly 48 points per game for the fourth highest mark in the nation. The defense has really struggled however surrendering 34 points per game, including 37 points per game in AAC play. In back-to-back losses the past two weeks Houston has allowed 104 points and four straight foes have scored at least 36 points against Houston while rushing for at least 196 yards. Houston has also benefitted from not drawing UCF or Cincinnati in the East schedule draw.

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Houston has one of the highest profile defensive players in the nation with Ed Oliver a projected 1st round NFL pick next spring but Oliver hasn’t played in the past three games and appears likely to be ruled out to play again this week with a lingering knee injury. Houston’s defense has allowed big rushing numbers in recent weeks including surrendering 312 rushing yards in last week’s home loss to Temple and the Cougars are coming off back-to-back double-digit defeats.

 

Home losses have been rare for the Houston program with a 22-3 S/U record at home since 2014 and it had been 31 games since Houston had lost a home game by more than a single score. Houston was a 27-point home favorite in a 30-18 win over Tulane at home two years ago but last season in New Orleans the Wave pulled off the upset, making this a revenge game in Houston’s final home game of the season.

 

Tulane started the season with a competitive overtime loss hosting Wake Forest but wound up starting the season 2-5. Three straight wins have put the Wave back in the postseason conversation in the third season for Willie Fritz with Tulane last making a bowl game in 2013. Next week’s home game with Navy will be a reasonable opportunity but Tulane has won its past two road games and could emerge as an AAC title threat with another road win this week.

 

Tulane runs the option and despite marginal numbers, the results have been better since making a move to Justin McMillan at quarterback. Jonathan Banks started most of last season and the senior was productive in the first seven games this season. McMillan is also a senior and played sparingly until replacing Banks in the loss at Cincinnati in early October. He didn’t play at all the next week but he has been the team’s quarterback the past three games, all wins, albeit against lighter competition than Banks faced in most of his games. McMillan had by far his best passing game last week as Tulane surprisingly threw 28 times for 372 yards to add some different wrinkles to the playbook.

 

Tulane has been the best defensive team in the AAC West, allowing only 23 points per game with each of the past three foes held to 18 or fewer points. Pass defense has been a strong point holding opposing quarterbacks to just over 52 percent completions and only 7.2 yards per attempt. Tulane also has allowed just 3.8 yards per rush and just 141 yards per game. Houston has only allowed 3.9 yards per rush on the season but the numbers have been heading in the wrong direction the past four weeks.

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Houston’s defense will certainly be difficult to trust as a heavy favorite in any matchup though this is a Cougars team that has scored at least 41 points in five of six conference games, a figure Tulane has reached once vs. FBS competition this season. Whichever team controls the pace and avoids turnovers should have the edge and the recent scheduling has played a role in the recent opposing trajectories for these teams.

 

Last season: Houston trailed 13-3 at halftime at Tulane but seemed likely to pull out the win as there were missed opportunities with a fumble near midfield while also failing going for it on 4th-and-1 from the Tulane 6-yard-line early in the second quarter. On the first drive of the second half King threw an interception in the end zone but after a Tulane interception Houston scored a touchdown to close to within three by the start of the fourth quarter. On the next drive Houston went 91 yards to take the lead but Tulane answered with Banks delivering a 64-yard touchdown pass. Down three in the final minutes Houston again went for it on 4th down rather than attempting a long field goal for the tie and came up empty as Tulane held on for the upset.

 

Historical Trends: Houston has held a strong home field edge with a 65-16 S/U and 43-33-1 ATS record since 2006 while going 4-1 S/U and 3-2 ATS at home this season. Houston is on a 12-2 S/U and 11-3 ATS run in this series since 2003 though Tulane has covered in the past two trips to Houston including an upset win in 2014 as a 17-point underdog. Tulane is 9-49 S/U and 27-31 ATS as a road underdog since 2008, going 5-6 ATS since 2016 under Fritz with only one S/U upset, with that win the 41-15 win at South Florida earlier this month.

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Thursday NCAA – Temple at UCF

Thursday Night College Football – Temple at UCF

10/30/2018

This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes out of the American Athletic Conference with a pair teams that have matching 4-0 records in the AAC East. Temple visits Central Florida tonight in a game that could decide the division title as the Knights host Thursday night football looking to extend a 20-game winning streak.

Match-up: Temple Owls at Central Florida Golden Knights

Venue: At Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Florida

Time/TV: Thursday, November 1, 7:30 PM ET ESPN

Line: UCF -10½, Over/Under 61

Last Meeting: 2017, UCF (-12) 45, at Temple 19

A spotlight opportunity for Central Florida Thursday will give the team with the nation’s-longest winning streak a chance to make its case for College Football Playoff consideration in front of a larger audience. Going 13-0 last season, UCF is 7-0 this season for 20 consecutive wins since losing in bowl action in December of 2016. The Knights are 13-7 ATS in that span including 7-4 ATS in home games.

It has seemingly been an easy transition for former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel taking over the program after Scott Frost left for Nebraska after just two seasons in Orlando. The Knights needed a big comeback for a 31-30 win at Memphis but that has been the only drama on the field in the 7-0 start with every other win coming by at least 20 points.

UCF is up to #9 in both the AP and Coaches Polls but there is no realistic shot for UCF to get serious national playoff consideration. Not that it would have made a big difference but a road game at North Carolina was cancelled in September to deplete the schedule further as the only power conference win came at home against Pittsburgh. That 45-14 results looks a bit stronger at this point in the season with Pittsburgh looking like an a decent ACC team but unless there is major chaos in the major conferences down the stretch or  several upsets on championship Saturday, it seems unlikely that a potential 12-0 UCF team will even be considered for the final four.

Making the assumption that the Knights will run the table is a big leap as the toughest AAC games of the season remain in a stacked November schedule starting this week. Home games with Navy and Cincinnati follow before a road finale at South Florida. UCF would then need to beat the West champion, likely Houston in the AAC title game.

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Quarterback McKenzie Milton was a surprise scratch for the last game at East Carolina on October 20. Milton was discussed early in the season as potential Heisman candidate but his numbers this season haven’t come close to matching his great 2017 figures. He is averaging 1.2 fewer yards per pass while posting only 16 touchdowns after throwing 37 last season while not even a third of the way to last season’s rushing total. Information on his injury has been limited and he has been considered day-to-day this week. The Knights threw for just 111 yards without Milton in the win over East Carolina, leaning on the ground game with 316 rushing yards with freshman Daniel Mack taking over at quarterback.

Expectations were high for Temple this season in the second season under Geoff Collins. Losses to FCS Villanova and Buffalo started the season but the Owls have rallied to win five of the last six games with the only loss at Boston College. Wins over Maryland and Navy on the road were impressive and in the last game Temple snuck out a fortunate narrow win over Cincinnati to move to 4-0 in conference play.

Like UCF, Temple still has a tough remaining schedule as even if they win this game there would be no guarantee they could hold on to the division title with Cincinnati and South Florida close behind at 3-1. Temple still plays South Florida in mid-November and will also have a tough crossover game with West leader Houston next week.

Temple is also dealing with key injuries with running back Ryquell Armstead and defensive tackle Freddie Booth-Lloyd question marks this week. Armstead leads the team with 626 rushing yards despite missing the past two games and they have missed his production with the Owls posting only 3.8 yards per rush on the season but Armstead averaging 5.1 yards per carry. UCF is one of the nation’s top rushing teams with 5.8 yards per attempt and 261 yards per game as Armstead would be important in helping the Owls keep pace on the ground.

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Temple is the surprise national leader in yards per pass attempt allowed defensively, surrendering only 4.5 yards per pass attempt as even if Milton plays, UCF is likely going to have to lean on the ground game. The Owls have 24 sacks and eight interceptions while allowing only nine passing touchdowns. Only Michigan has held opposing quarterbacks to a lower QB Rating this season.

Against a lighter schedule UCF also has very good numbers defending the pass. Frank Nutile took over at quarterback last season with success for the Owls but after a slow start sophomore Anthony Russo moved into the starting role for Temple. Russo has good size but has been mistake-prone with 10 interceptions in 191 pass attempts this season. Russo has been intercepted at least once in every game he has started but he also has eight passing touchdowns in his last three games while throwing for nearly 800 yards in those three conference wins.

Both teams had close calls in the last games played on October 20. Temple saw a 10-0 lead disappear hosting Cincinnati and trailed 17-10 most of the second half before tying the game in the final minute and winning in overtime. UCF’s 37-10 win over East Carolina was closer than it looked. Playing without Milton UCF led 23-10 through three quarters and caught a few big breaks late as East Carolina fumbled on the goal line with the ball returned for a touchdown the other way turning a potential one-score game into a 20-point lead. The Knights were actually out-gained 496-427 but had a 5-0 turnover advantage and still wound up narrowly covering as a heavy road favorite.

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Last Season: After a 3-5 start to the season Temple won back-to-back games to start November before playing as a double-digit home underdog against undefeated UCF. Temple led 10-7 in the second quarter before UCF rattled off 24 straight points before halftime and eventually won 45-19. Temple actually had a 397-384 yardage edge in the game but had a 5-0 turnover deficit. That win moved the Knights to 10-0 before they turned in three straight seven-point wins over South Florida, Memphis, and Auburn to complete the perfect season.

Historical Trends: These schools have met each of the last five years with UCF going 3-2 S/U and ATS. Temple won the last meeting in Orlando with a 26-25 win in 2016 as a slight underdog. Temple is 28-14 ATS since 2007 as a road underdog including going 2-0 ATS this season and 8-3 ATS since 2015. UCF is 30-18 ATS as a home favorite since 2010, including going 22-13 ATS as a double-digit home favorite, with a 3-1 ATS mark in that role this season.

 

 

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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 Night – Stanford vs. ASU

Thursday Night College Football – Stanford at Arizona State

10/16/2018

This week’s Thursday night game is a Pac-12 clash between Stanford and Arizona State. While the conference may have already played its way out of the national playoff hunt, both division races are still up for grabs and these teams are still viable contenders to play for the championship in December. Here is a look at the Thursday night game to start the next week of college football.

Match-up: Stanford Cardinal at Arizona State Sun Devils

Venue: At Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona

Time/TV: Thursday, October 18, 9:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Stanford -2½, Over/Under 56

Last Meeting: 2017, at Stanford (-17) 34, Arizona State 24

Stanford was expected by many to be not just a Pac-12 contender but a serious threat to make a run at a spot in the College Football Playoffs. The season started out impressively with wins over San Diego State and USC, holding those respectable foes to a combined 13 points in home victories. Stanford then seemed to perhaps be a team of destiny with an improbable comeback to win in overtime at Oregon as well.

In a huge game at Notre Dame in a matchup of teams in the top 10 of the polls in late September the Cardinal were blown out with a 38-17 defeat. The next week playing without star running back Bryce Love Stanford fared just as poorly back at home with a 40-21 loss to Utah. Stanford is still 2-1 in Pac-12 play but has a difficult game remaining at Washington in a few weeks as another good but mildly disappointing season for David Shaw appears to be underway.

Last year Stanford won the Pac-12 North and lost a competitive Pac-12 Championship game with USC before losing in a tight Alamo Bowl against TCU. The 9-5 finish matched the most losses for Shaw since he took over in 2011 but the team had high hopes for 2018 with Love returning and K.J. Costello showing great promise after taking over at quarterback midway through the 2017 season. 

Shaw has an impressive track record currently with a 77-24 record at Stanford halfway through his eighth season, going 51-15 in Pac-12 play while winning five division titles and three conference championships. Shaw has two Rose Bowl wins as well, but the Cardinal have lost at least two games in every season to never seriously threaten in the national picture and this year’s team will be no different already with two defeats.

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Last year’s team had the worst statistical defense that Shaw has fielded and the defense so far this season has struggled, allowing 400 yards per game despite only surrendering 22 points per game. Opponents have rushed for 164 yards per game against Stanford while Stanford has shockingly been one of the worst rushing offenses in the nation, averaging 86 yards per game on the ground with 3.1 yards per rush.

Love finished second in the Heisman voting last season with 2,118 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns and 8.1 yards per rush. He has missed two games this season and has barely average half of last season’s per carry average posting 4.3 yards per rush and only 327 total yards at this point in the season for a very disappointing senior campaign. He is a question mark this week with the lingering ankle injury.

Costello didn’t play the full season last year but he already has thrown more interceptions and taken more sacks in his six starts this season for Stanford. He has thrown for 12 touchdowns on nearly 8.9 yards per attempt and his completion rate is up by nearly four percent as the offense has been effective in the passing game with a massive receiving corps led by JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

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Herm Edwards was considered a curious hire at Arizona State after the departure of Todd Graham after six seasons. Graham was famously poached from Pittsburgh after just one season and was fairly successful for the Sun Devils making a bowl game in five of six years and winning the Pac-12 South in 2013. Edwards finished 20 games below .500 as a NFL head coach and had never been a head coach at the college level, actually only an assistant for three years as a position coach at San Jose State in the late ‘80s. He had also not been on the sidelines at all in a decade, emerging as a prominent TV personality on ESPN’s NFL coverage.

The Sun Devils made an early splash this season with a home upset of Michigan State but the Sun Devils are just 3-3 on the season including 1-2 in Pac-12 play. All three losses have come on the road and all were decided by just seven points for competitive games. The remaining schedule for Arizona State is difficult still with USC, Utah, and Oregon on the schedule with two of those three games on the road as this is a critical home date if the Sun Devils are to make a bowl game.

Manny Wilkins has been a productive quarterback for the Sun Devils with nearly 1,500 yards passing and 11 touchdowns with only one interception so far this season. Arizona State has also been one of the better rushing teams in the conference led by Eno Benjamin who has 715 rushing yards on 5.7 yards per carry, currently ninth nationally and second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards.

Arizona State has held foes to just 3.8 yards per rush this season while the pass defense has posted average results with numbers just slightly better than Stanford has posted, through a lesser overall schedule so far. The scoring defense numbers are also nearly identical for these teams and a close game should be expected under the lights in Thursday’s national TV game, coinciding with a Thursday night NFL game 22 miles northwest in Glendale.

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Last season: These teams met in late September last season with matching 2-2 records. Arizona State had just defeated Oregon to recover from narrow losses to San Diego State and Texas Tech. Stanford won its opener last season in Australia but then lost to USC and San Diego State in road games before blasting UCLA ahead of this game. It was a back-and-forth game early with the teams trading scores until halftime with a 24-17 edge for the Cardinal as a heavy favorite. Bryce Love broke a 59-yard run in the third quarter but it was a one-score game in the final minutes until a late Stanford field goal. Stanford had a 504-409 yardage edge and a 2-1 edge in turnovers. Love emerged as a serious Heisman threat with 301 yards and three touchdowns, eclipsing 1,000 yards for the season in just his fifth game.

Historical Trends: Arizona State has a 17-12 S/U edge since 1981 in this series with a 6-3 ATS mark since 2006, though Stanford has won S/U in five of the last six meetings. Arizona State won the last home meeting in 2014 as a home underdog 26-10, while going 11-4 S/U and 9-6 ATS in the home meetings of this series since 1982. The Sun Devils are on a 13-5 ATS run as a home underdog since 2009, winning outright in six of nine instances since 2016. Arizona State is 12-4 S/U and ATS overall at home since 2016. Stanford is 27-13 S/U and 22-17-1 ATS in road games under Shaw since 2011, going 16-13-1 ATS as a road favorite in that span. Since the start of last season Stanford is just 1-5-1 ATS in road games however. 

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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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Thursday NCAA – Tulsa at Houston

Thursday Night College Football – Tulsa at Houston

10/01/2018

This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes out of the American Athletic Conference with a West division battle between Tulsa and Houston. The Golden Hurricane fared poorly on Thursday night two weeks ago in their first conference game while this is the AAC opener for Houston. Here is a look at Thursday’s game to start college football Week 6.

Match-up: Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Houston Cougars

Venue: At TDECU Stadium in Houston, Texas

Time/TV: Thursday, October 4, 8:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Houston -18, Over/Under 67½

Last Meeting: 2017, at Tulsa (+14) 45, Houston 17

Houston won the inaugural AAC Championship game in 2015 and grabbed headlines nationally in 2016. That success let to Tom Herman being hired in Austin and last season former Texas quarterback guided Houston to a 7-5 season in his first season as head coach.

Four of the five losses for Houston came in single score games but the one exception was a blowout loss at Tulsa, losing by 28 as a two-touchdown favorite. This season Houston is 3-1 with a notable win over Arizona while the loss came by 14 at Texas Tech. This will be the first game of the AAC season for the Cougars who figure to be the favorites in the West division with last season’s champion Memphis already 0-2 in league play.

Houston struggled to find a quarterback early last season but D’Eriq King emerged in late October, keying the upset over South Florida and finishing the season with solider results in the air and on the ground. Now a junior King has rushed less successfully and has a lower completion rate but with 15 touchdowns and just one interception he has been a great leader with the offense scoring at least 45 points in every game.

Houston has rushed for over 1,000 yards in four games on 6.4 yards per carry with a committee as Patrick Carr leads the team with only 201 rushing yards and King leads the team with five rushing touchdowns.

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Houston also has one of the highest profile defensive players in the nation with Ed Oliver a projected 1st round NFL pick next spring. Houston hasn’t had great defensive numbers this season allowing over 30 points per game after surrendering fewer than 24 points per game last season.

After a two-win 2017 season is expected to be an improved team with a shot at making the postseason. The 1-3 start has featured three losses in a row all against quality competition falling to Texas, Arkansas State, and opening the conference season with a 31-17 loss at Temple two weeks ago. Tulsa out-gained Temple by more than 100 yards in that game but had five turnovers including allowing two defensive touchdowns.

Luke Skipper split time at quarterback last season and has led the offense in all four games this year. He has marginal numbers with six interceptions and just 6.2 yards per attempt. Chad President is still on the roster but has only seen a few snaps this season after sharing the load last season for Philip Montgomery, in his fourth season as the head coach at Tulsa.

Montgomery led Tulsa to a bowl game in his first season and then produced a 10-win 2016 season before reversing course last year. Montgomery was an assistant at Houston from 2003 to 2007 before being the offensive coordinator at Baylor from 2008 to 2014 as a long-time assistant to Art Briles.

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Last season: Houston was 4-1 heading to Tulsa with the Hurricane 1-5 at the time and coming off a 62-28 loss at Tulane. It wasn’t a surprise when the Cougars took a 10-0 early lead but out of halftime Tulsa was a different team, feeding off of a big turnover to produce 17 points in the third quarter. Houston would get back within seven before Skipper hit a 70 yard pass play to seal the win. Tulsa added two touchdowns in the final minute for a more convincing result than they deserved and it may be something the Houston players remember.

Historical Trends: Houston is on a 42-31-1 run in home games since 2006 including a 6-2 ATS start under Applewhite including 3-0 as a double-digit home favorite. Tulsa has covered in six of the past eight meetings between these schools going back to 2009 including covering in each of the last four meetings in Houston. Tulsa is on a 22-11 ATS run as a double-digit underdog since 2010 with seven S/U upsets, going 12-4 ATS in that role since 2015 under Montgomery.

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Thursday NCAA – UNC vs. Miami

Thursday Night College Football – North Carolina at Miami

This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes from the ACC in a matchup many figured would be a key game in the ACC Coastal standings. Neither team has the record they hoped for heading into the final week of September but both teams remain without a loss in conference play, with the winner of this game remaining a threat in the quest to reach the ACC Championship.

Match-up: North Carolina Tar Heels at Miami Hurricanes

Venue: At Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida

Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 27, 8:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Miami -18, Over/Under 55

Last Meeting: 2017, Miami (-21) 24, at North Carolina 19

After winning 10 games in a row to start last season and reaching #2 in the polls, the Hurricanes closed last season with three straight defeats and Mark Richt’s squad lost in the 2018 opener despite being considered a top 10 caliber team in the opening polls. The Hurricanes weren’t overly competitive in that 33-17 defeat against LSU in Arlington but have since rallied to reach 3-1 ahead of this week’s ACC opener.

The big storyline is the quarterback decision Richt faces this week. Senior Malik Rosier led the team to great success last season with a 3,000-yard passing season while also rushing for nearly 500 yards. He had 26 touchdowns last season but also 14 interceptions and completed only 54 percent of his passes. Rosier had two interceptions in the opening loss to LSU but had played well the previous two games with wins over FCS Savannah State and Toledo. Last week Rosier was benched after Miami failed to score on the first two possessions hosting Florida International, even though he attempted only three passes.

Taking over was freshman N’Kosi Perry, a taller and quicker Ocala product that played well in mop-up action against Savannah State. Perry was sharp with 68 percent completions in relief against FIU, leading an eventual 31-17 win in a game Miami controlled with a 31-0 edge before allowing late scoring. Perry does have two interceptions in his 39 pass attempts but also six touchdown passes with a much higher completion rate than Rosier has featured. He didn’t take meaningful snaps in either of Miami’s road games however and it will be a quick turnaround with the Thursday game and less practice time with the first team if Perry is indeed starting against North Carolina as most expect.

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Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas have provided a strong rushing presence for the Hurricanes as although each has just one rushing touchdown, they have combined for 500 yards with productive averages. Jeff Thomas has been the big play threat in the passing game with a whopping 315 receiving yards on only 12 catches as Miami’s offense can remain capable with either quarterback.

Miami became a national phenomenon last season with the turnover chain and this season the Hurricanes have been formidable on pass defense with four interceptions while holding opposing quarterbacks to just a 49 percent completion rate. Miami has been among the elite rush defenses in the nation with just 2.1 yards per rush allowed in four games with run defense a consistent area of strength since Richt took over. Miami has an even turnover margin on the season and the only defensive touchdown of the season came on a blocked punt and it was also in the fourth quarter of a FCS game that was 56-0 at the time.

North Carolina was in the summer headlines for the wrong reasons with a shoe selling scandal with 13 players ultimately suspended for various lengths staggered over the start of the season. Last season’s passing leader sophomore Chazz Surratt was among those with a four-game suspension, effectively handing the quarterback competition win to junior Nathan Elliott after they split time last season.

The suspension for Surratt is now over even through just three games as the cancelled game with UCF did count. Elliott has been named the starter this week coming off a fine performance in a win over Pittsburgh last weekend. He threw for 313 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns leading North Carolina’s first win 38-35. That performance was needed after a four interception season debut at California while also struggling in the loss to East Carolina.

The 0-2 start was a surprise for a Tar Heels team that many expected to compete in the Coastal race. The Tar Heels were a disappointment at 3-9 last season but the team played well in the season’s final month and now with the roster more completely intact this is a team that is a threat to make noise in the division race. North Carolina has leaned on Antonio Williams in the ground game with 6.6 yards per carry, so far unseating Jordon Brown who was the team’s top rusher last season.

Run defense has been an area of concern with 4.8 yards per carry surrendered but the Tar Heels have been fairly tough on opposing quarterbacks with four interceptions for the defense along with only three passing touchdowns allowed. After being -4 in turnovers in the opener the Tar Heels are even since but the defense has allowed over 900 yards in the past two games after holding California to fewer than 300 yards in the opener.

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These teams were on opposite ends of the standings in a late October game in Chapel Hill last season with Miami ranked #8 nationally and undefeated playing as a road favorite vs. a then 1-7 North Carolina team that was 0-5 in ACC play. The Tar Heels competed well with a 7-6 game at the half before Miami went for 78 yards on its first offensive snap in the third quarter. North Carolina still only trailed by four heading into the fourth quarter and had the ball back down five in the final minutes before losing a fumble in Miami territory. The production numbers were similar with North Carolina actually featuring a slight yardage edge but also four turnovers.

This spread suggests the gap between these programs has closed a bit since last season and this is potentially a dangerous date on the schedule for Miami with the Florida State game up next weekend. All eyes will be on Perry in his most significant test with Richt putting himself open to criticism as Rosier has won a lot of games for the Hurricanes. Perry might provide the best hope for an ACC title shot however with this game a big step in the season goals for both teams.

Historical Trends: North Carolina has covered in nine of the last 14 meetings including in each of the past three seasons, winning S/U in 2015 and 2016 before a five-point loss last season. Miami is just 3-8 ATS as a favorite in this series since 2004 but most of the failures in this series have been in Chapel Hill where Miami has covered once in seven tries. Since 2002 Miami is just 31-48 ATS as a favorite of 10 or more points including going 22-36 ATS in Miami and going 3-6 ATS since the start of last season in that role. North Carolina is 13-8-1 ATS in road games since 2014 while going 10-8 ATS as a double-digit underdog since 2007. Only twice since 2007 has North Carolina been an underdog of 17 or more points and both instances came in the span of week last season with contrasting results with a 59-7 loss at Virginia Tech and the five-point loss hosting Miami.

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