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Thursday NCAA – Temple at UCF

Thursday Night College Football – Temple at UCF


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 Night NCAA Football

Thursday Night College Football Opening Night

While college football had a brief preview last weekend with six teams in action the Thursday night schedule will officially allow the first full weekend of the season to commence. While lacking a prominent headlining game on the schedule, three major conference teams are in action while the Big Ten and the American are featuring rare opening night conference games. Here is a quick look at the four games on the schedule Thursday night.

Match-up: Central Florida Knights at Connecticut Huskies

Venue: At Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut

Time/TV: Thursday, Aug. 30, 7:00 PM ET, ESPNU

Line: UCF -23, Over/Under 75

Last Meeting: 2017 at UCF, UCF (-38) 49-24

Central Florida is a fitting team to kick off the 2018 schedule Thursday night as they were the only team to go undefeated in the 2017 season, even claiming the national title locally while finishing the season with an impressive Peach Bowl win over Auburn on New Year’s Day. The success had a cost as Scott Frost left for Nebraska after just two seasons and another former Big XII quarterback is now leading the way in Orlando with Josh Heupel hired from Missouri where he was the offensive coordinator. Heupel has McKenzie Milton under center to help the transition with Milton passing for over 4,000 yards last season with 37 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.

Connecticut has limited expectations this season, the second campaign in Randy Edsall’s second stop leading the Huskies. This squad finished just 3-9 last season with a major transition moving toward an up-tempo offense that leans on the passing game. The numbers improved with scoring and production up dramatically last season but the defensive numbers worsened from Bob Diaco’s 2016 squad by a similar increment. Few starters return on the rebuilding defense for 2018 but this should be a team that can take another step forward offensively.

UCF had just survived a close call at SMU last season when they hosted Connecticut as an 8-0 squad that had climbed into the top 15 of the national polls. The Knights grabbed an early lead but wound up caught in a close game into the fourth quarter as the Huskies trailed by only 11 before UCF added three fourth quarter touchdowns to win comfortably 49-24 but finishing well short of the massive spread with only a 519-413 yardage edge for the Knights.

This year the spread has been adjusted downward significantly but the total is priced about 10 points higher than last season with Connecticut expected to be a productive offensive team that passes often. Quarterback David Pindell had modest numbers taking just over a third of the snaps for Connecticut last season and like Milton he is smaller in stature than prototypical quarterbacks and has good mobility as the Huskies will aim for a shootout result.

Historical Trends: Central Florida is 15-21-1 ATS as a road favorite since 2003, Connecticut is 29-18-1 ATS as a home underdog since 2001.

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Match-up: Northwestern Wildcats at Purdue Boilermakers

Venue: At Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana

Time/TV: Thursday, Aug. 30, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN

Line: Purdue -1.5, Over/Under 52.5

Last Meeting: 2017 at Northwestern, Northwestern (-6.5) 23-13

Northwestern and Purdue both made the postseason last year out of the Big Ten West but both could face tougher paths this season. The West teams draw five of nine conference games on the road this season and both squads will play two of three crossover games with heavyweight East squads. The non-conference schedules for both teams are also difficult as this toss-up opening game will carry a lot of weight towards the season goals.

Last season Northwestern had a 20-0 lead in the first half before Purdue rallied for a competitive finish, winding up with a yardage edge for the game but never getting closer than the 10-point final margin in the second half. The Boilermakers nearly spoiled the favorite cover before committing the only turnover in the game inside the 10-yard line with about a minute to go. The Wildcats have won in this series each of the past four seasons and in six of the last nine meetings since 2008, going 5-2 ATS in those games.

Northwestern won 45-17 at Purdue two years ago but that was before Jeff Brohm took over the team. The former Western Kentucky head coach led a successful first season with nearly as many wins as Darrell Hazell had produced in four seasons. The offense displayed much more success running the ball last season while the defense made a massive improvement statistically. The defense will be the biggest area of concern this season with heavy personnel losses from last season while the offense has many key players back including both quarterbacks that split time last season with David Blough and Elijah Sindelar expected to share time again this season.

Pat Fitzgerald is entering his 13th season at Northwestern and the program has been to three straight bowl games with 27 wins the past three years combined. While Wisconsin is the favorite in the West, many see Northwestern as second in line after posting a 7-2 conference record last season. This game will be critical in any entertainment of that notion as the next two Big Ten games will be against Michigan and Michigan State. Clayton Thorson returns after a steady 2017 season at quarterback but 1,300-yard rusher Justin Jackson will need to be replaced.

Historical Trends: Northwestern is 10-6 ATS at Purdue since 1982, Purdue is 15-26 ATS at home since 2012.

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Match-up: New Mexico State Aggies at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Venue: At TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Time/TV: Thursday, Aug. 30, 7:00 PM ET, BTN

Line: Minnesota -20.5, Over/Under 45.5

Last Meeting: 2013 at New Mexico State, Minnesota (-16.5) 44-21

New Mexico State was one of the teams that played last Saturday and the Aggies had a forgettable opening performance with very poor results for the offense in a 26-7 loss hosting Wyoming. It appears that replacing long-time quarterback Tyler Rogers will be a challenge as the Aggies posted just 144 passing yards behind Matt Romero and Nick Jeanty. The Aggies also wound up with negative rushing yards in the game and the only score for the team came with 1:16 remaining and the outcome well past decided.

New Mexico State is on the road the next two weeks with this a tricky turnaround going from Saturday night and traveling to Minnesota for a Thursday night game. The poor result last week sours momentum from a great 2017 season with a 7-6 finish in Doug Martin’s fifth season, getting the team’s first bowl appearance and win since 1960. The Aggies now have little margin for error for a return trip playing an Independent schedule. While some challenges for the offense replacing Rogers along with the top rusher and receiver from last season were expected, the defense was considered a possible strength with nine starters back after showing great improvement last season. Wyoming rushed for 312 yards last week on 5.5 yards per carry which should mean a favorable opportunity for Minnesota.

Amidst great self-promotion and fanfare P.J. Fleck’s first season with the Gophers fizzled as a 3-0 start wound up with a 5-7 finish in the standings and only two Big Ten wins. The offense was among the worst of all power conference programs with only 22 points per game and 309 yards per game. The answer this season will be a freshman quarterback as Zack Annexstad was a mild surprise to win the job this summer. The Gophers do have a veteran offensive line and should remain a quality defensive team looking for a breakthrough second season.

The opening result for New Mexico State has meant a growing favorite spread for Minnesota with the Gophers failing as a heavy favorite in opening games the past two seasons in narrow wins. After being shutout in each of the final two games of the season last year pressure will grow on Fleck and with a more challenging game next week at home this is a critical game for Minnesota but also a spot where the Aggies, with a game under their belt, can certainly play better that they did last week.

Historical Trends: New Mexico State is 16-23-1 ATS as a double-digit underdog since 2012, Minnesota is 17-24 ATS as a home favorite since 2007.

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Match-up: Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Tulane Green Wave

Venue: At Yulman Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana

Time/TV: Thursday, Aug. 30, 8:00 PM ET, CBSC

Line: Wake Forest -5.5, Over/Under 55

Last Meeting: 2016 at Wake Forest, Wake Forest (-14.5) 7-3

These teams opened the 2016 season in Winston-Salem with a 7-3 win for Wake Forest in a game with no second half scoring. Wake Forest won despite only 10 first downs and 175 total yards in what was a great defensive showing for Tulane in the debut of Willie Fritz on the sidelines. Fritz led a very successful two-year run at Georgia Southern but has gone 4-8 and 5-7 the past two seasons at Tulane. The Wave have a team capable of taking the next step with most of last season’s offense back in action but the schedule ahead is difficult, particularly on the road. For a bowl season Tulane will need an upset at some point and this home opener is likely one of the best opportunities.

Tulane only lost twice at home last season falling to South Florida by six and to Cincinnati by one and wins at home over Army and Houston offer some promise. Jonathan Banks is an experienced quarterback that had solid production passing and rushing last season while LSU transfer Justin McMillan is also on the roster. Tulane had a season of regression on defense last year and with minimal returning experience improvement isn’t likely for a Wave team that allowed 5.4 yards per rush last season.

Wake Forest had problems stopping the run last season and one of the worst losses of the season came against another triple-option team falling 38-24 at Georgia Tech. The Demon Deacons have returning experience but replacing long time quarterback John Wolford has been a challenge. Kendall Hinton has been suspended for the first three games while Jamie Newman is injured as freshman Sam Hartman is expected to start. He’ll likely lean on the top returning receiver Greg Dortch who can also be a factor on special teams.

Wake Forest won eight games last season and Dave Clawson has returned the program to a respectable place. A breakthrough season of contention isn’t expected in the tough ACC Atlantic. Holding on to a bowl bid isn’t a given either as this is an important game in reaching the needed win count for Wake Forest as well with Notre Dame on the non-conference schedule and no easy outs on the ACC slate.

Historical Trends: Wake Forest is 12-18-2 ATS as a road favorite since 1982, Tulane is 22-30-2 ATS as a home underdog since 2004.

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Get previews and predictions on every college and pro football game of the season with Nelly’s Green Sheet newsletter subscription!

Issue 9 was just released on Monday covering all 44 college games this weekend and NFL preseason Week 4.

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Free NCAA Pick Thursday

#551 Central Florida +14 over Wichita State 8:00 PM CT

Playing through a much tougher conference schedule has taken a toll as Wichita State has lost back-to-back games in league play. The Shockers are still a threat to make national noise this season but they are now 1-4 against the best four teams they have faced. Wins over Marquette, Baylor, and Oklahoma State have dimmed a bit and the strongest win of the season was cancelled out last weekend in now splitting the season series with Houston.

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Most will expect a bounce-back tonight at home for Wichita State but this line reflects that with a grossly inflated price. UCF has competed well in a 13-6 start to the season with some of the top defensive numbers in the nation. UCF will slow the pace of this game to a halt making the double-digit number seem even more significant. The Knights have only lost once by more than 11 points this season and that came facing West Virginia on the second of back-to-back nights after a huge win over Nebraska.

This is a veteran Knights team that won three NIT games last season and while injuries have disrupted the roster the pace of play will keep UCF with a great shot to stay within this spread.

The Big E is on a 25-13 basketball run – don’t miss tonight’s 20* in the WCC. Nelly’s is 21-7 in our 2-for-1 offer picks this season going 2-0 eight times in 14 tries while going 0-2 just once. Get a pair of college picks for only $15 Thursday. Bobby Dalton has a 10* Best Bet Total in the NBA Thursday night!

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AAC Championship Notes


Match-up: Memphis Tigers at Central Florida Knights

Venue: At Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Florida

Time/TV: Saturday, December 2, 12:00 PM ET, ABC

Line: Central Florida -7½, Over/Under 82

Last Meeting: September 30, 2017 at Central Florida (-5½) 40-13

The top two quarterbacks in the AAC face off in the third ever AAC Championship and the first appearance in the game for either program. UCF last played for a championship losing the 2012 Conference USA title game to Tulsa while Memphis and UCF were co-champions of the AAC with Cincinnati in the 2014 season before the league had divisions.

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Sophomore McKenzie Milton followed Scott Frost to UCF and after emerging as the starter as a freshman last season he was the AAC’s top rated passer (2nd nationally) this season with 30 touchdowns against six interceptions, completing 69 percent of his passes on 10.3 yards per attempt. Milton has also rushed for 429 yards leading a Knights offense that scored 47.6 points per game to pace the nation. Riley Ferguson delivered a fine senior season for Memphis with 32 touchdown throws and 3,500 passing yards. At 6’4” Ferguson could be a mid-round NFL draft pick in April. As the total suggests both offenses are capable of huge numbers with Memphis scoring 44.3 points per game.

The head coaches will be bigger storylines than the quarterbacks however as it is assumed the Scott Frost will be departing Orlando for a power five job. His Alma Mater Nebraska certainly is interested but there could be other schools in play as well, including possibly Florida State should that position open up. Memphis head coach Mike Norvell is 18-6 in two seasons at Memphis and also will likely have the opportunity to interview for a few openings as well. He played at Central Arkansas as the opening in Fayetteville seems like a possibility but he also was an assistant at Arizona State before taking over at Memphis.

2017 Meeting: Originally scheduled for the second week of the season this game was shuffled along with several other AAC games following Hurricane Irma, played in late September when UCF has originally scheduled FCS Maine and Memphis had originally scheduled a game at Georgia State. UCF had only played two games but they had outscored Florida International and Maryland 99-27 with the win at Maryland turning some heads as the Terrapins were 2-0 with a win over Texas. UCF has clear edges statistically and led 23-7 before eventually leading 40-7 with the Tigers adding a late touchdown. UCF had a 603-396 yardage edge with a 4-1 turnover edge. The rushing edge was most prominent with a 350-75 advantage for the Knights.

Series History: Central Florida has won S/U 10 meetings in a row in this series going back to 2005 with the last win for Memphis coming in 1990 when UCF was not playing at the top college football level. Memphis has covered in three of the last five meetings going back to 2010 with this September’s 40-13 win for the Knights the first meeting since 2013. The highest scoring meeting between these teams didn’t quite reach this year’s total with a 56-20 result in favor of UCF in 2007.

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