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Ducking the Odds: Week 6 of the CFB Season

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We have been crushing spreads this year. Tune in to see it fall apart!

NCAA Football: California at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Season

Rusty’s Record: 19-11

Sean’s Record: 19-11

Last Week

Rusty’s Record: 4-2

Sean’s Record: 4-2

During the offseason, Rusty came up with this genius flexible format for picking games, and we are both taking advantage.

The system: Rusty sends me a long list of game lines, broken down into a few categories. First, a couple of the hands-down biggest games of the week, usually including the #Ducks game (obviously). Then he sets out the other Pac-12 games, and from those we choose a couple of lines we like the best. And then he sets out the lines from the eight or so best games around the country, and we can make straight-up wild card picks from that group.

So: we each pick the several biggest games, the Pac-12 games we feel the most confident about, and then the games from around the country that we feel are LOCKSSSS.

And, so far, we are each picking pretty strongly, and are neck-and-neck. What better time for the wheels to come off this whole thing!

There are once again a lot of double digit favorites this weekend. And there is also this inexplicable line for the Ducks-Cougars game at Autzen.

-Common Games-

S: Washington State at Oregon (pick)

Dang. Even money!? Sean Larson covered this oddity earlier this week, but this line is a surprise. Sure: Oregon’s defense is vastly improved. Sure, Oregon’s rushing game is back to where it was a few seasons ago. But Wazzu just beat USC! And their defense is fast, and good at tackling in the open field!

But let’s examine just how amazing Oregon’s defense and rushing game recovery actually is. Defense is 15th nationally in yards per play so far, compared to 115th at the end of last season. That’s just straight-up amazing. And the rushing offense is 13th in the country so far, in terms of yards per game. Last year: 27th.

This is a spectacularly unscientific approach, but whenever the line is this surprising, I take it and run. This is commonly referred to as the “Vegas knows something!” system. Vegas surely knows that Oregon is down to its third string QB. It surely knows that so far the Ducks have lacked a true outside receiving option. And it must know that Wazzu has beat our brains in twice in a row, and almost beat us in 2014.

Even with all those factors, the oddsmakers say this is an even matchup. So I’ll take the home team. The Duck defense’s ability to get off the field on 3rd down and the offensive line’s ability to convert on 3rd down will make all the difference here. Go freaking Ducks.

R: Washington State at Oregon (pick)

This line opened at a pick and at some points you could get it at WSU -1 or Oregon -3. The line has recently been taken off the board while the unknown around injuries continues. Based on practice reports it seems like there is still a toss-up between Braxton and Alie, although if I had to bet on one person starting it would be Braxton. Royce Freeman and Breeland are also back at practice, which is going to be huge because they can take pressure off Braxton.

Last week, Washington State pulled out the upset against USC on a Friday night. There are a couple takeaways. First, Washington State gets a lot of negative plays without blitzing. Among other issues, negative plays really did Oregon in against Arizona State. Second, when Washington State is able to be effective the ten or so times they run the ball during the game they are a truly dangerous team. That means Oregon has to make the Cougars one-dimensional by taking away the run. Even if the WSU strength is passing, the defense has to make that their only option. Third, one factor to consider with the game is that USC was coming off a road game and then had a short week heading into another road game in Pullman. The travel and shortened time can play a significant factor.

I’m not going to put on rose-colored glasses and try to justify how we will be just as good with Herbert as we will with him. He was a real running threat that teams had to account for and with our current quarterback depth there is little to no chance that we will have a scenario where the quarterback is going to have the choice to run it himself on the option. One way to slow the WSU rush and to protect Burmeister is to play two tight ends at a time. WSU is going to load the box and dare Burmeister to beat them so you might as well drop a couple tight ends into the box to block. There’s also going to be very little tempo. Burmeister doesn’t have the experience or the familiarity with the offense to run it as fast as possible. The offense will largely be unbalanced formations with the option to hand off for power running or, if the numbers dictate, throw it to a receiver out in the flat for what is a screen but basically amounts to a glorified rush attempt.

This game is going to be won by the defense. Washington State didn’t test the Trojans deep that often. Their offense mostly relies on forcing defensive backs close to the line of scrimmage and linebackers to make very quick decisions. The inexperience at safety isn’t a huge concern to me, it’s the linebackers and if they are prepared for this type of attack. What the defense has going for them is the pass rush. The nickel package’s front four has been great at getting to the quarterback. WSU’s offense falls apart when Falk is pressured and chased out of the pocket. If the pass rush can get to Falk rushing four or fewer then the defense has a good shot of taking control of the game.

This is going to be an exciting game and this is obviously a homer lean. I could see both teams winning for the obvious reasons. Even though Herbert was lost in the first quarter the Oregon offense, which was completely one-dimensional in the latter three quarters, put 28 points on the board against a defense that is known for really tightening things down in the second half. The coaches have had some rough starts to games but they have clear track record of being able to adjust during the game. I think the game being at home is going to be a factor and the team could be focusing just a little bit more than normal knowing the circumstances.

S: West Virginia (+12) at TCU

TCU is the new non-Oklahoma darling of the Big 12, having knocked off the previous non-Oklahoma darling of the Big 12 - Oklahoma State - on the road two weeks ago. TCU also looked good vs. Arkansas earlier this season.

My prediction: this will be 2017’s version of the Kenny “Trill” Hill Stinker Game, in which beloved (and talented!) quarterback Kenny Hill inexplicably looks real bad and kind of blows the game with turnovers. West Virginia had a very, very good defense last year. Even though they graduated a ton of talent, I trust WVU to coach up a nasty secondary.

WVU hasn’t had trouble scoring this season either, scoring 50+ in their three games versus cupcakes (including Kansas).

Doesn’t this just feel like a patented 41-38 Big 12 scoring fest? Take all those points.

R: West Virginia at TCU (-12)

This is a really good number. It’s a ‘tweener in that it doesn’t fall on or just above/below a significant number. Picking such a big favorite in the Big-12 has burned me in the past but for some reason I just can’t stop myself. Or maybe I feel really good about TCU?

The Mountaineers have gone 3-0 since their opening loss to Virginia Tech. By no means has their competition been anything special. They have wins over East Carolina, Delaware State, and Kansas, so a lot of their stats on offense are inflated. If we look at S&P+ rankings we see that TCU is the 14th team in the country while West Virginia is at 41st. WVU has had their moments giving up explosive plays, ranking near the bottom in all the IsoPPP rankings.

TCU’s offense has shown they can be both efficient and explosive. They took it to Oklahoma State and a large part of that was the defense. The Frogs had full control in the first half of their game and were able to build a comfortable lead very early on. The defense does well against the run but has been pretty forgiving to opposing offense in short-yardage situations. I think TCU will be able to keep WVU into long third downs and take advantage of not having to worry about power running games. I very hesitantly pick TCU to cover.

-Conference Uncommon Games (Pick 2)-

S: Stanford at Utah (+4.5)

I will tell you what: anytime I can get a home underdog in the Pac 12, I’m tempted to roll with the home ‘dog. When that home underdog is named “Utah,” has a perennially stingy defense, and presents a frenetic hornets’ nest environment to road teams, I’m even happier to take the points.

I feel like this is a 20-17 game either direction, and Rice-Eccles Stadium is generally where good teams go to die. Stanford has been generally inefficient on offense due to below-average quarterback play, and reliant on big plays in the run game from Bryce Love. I don’t think Utah lets them get those big plays. #SackLakeCity keeps this game tight, tight enough for the Utes to have a chance to win this thing outright.

S: Arizona at Colorado (-6.5)

I’m picking this one almost by default. The other games Rusty had in this category were Cal at Washington (-27) and Oregon State at USC (-34). I didn’t like any of those high-point lines, so I looked to this game next. I looked at what unit I trust the most, and it’s probably Colorado’s defense. So here we are. Buffaloes minus the points!

Now, Arizona has outperformed expectations, but their performances this year have been hot-and-cold: over 60 points against garbage defenses in each of their two wins; 16 and 24 points against two very good defenses in their two losses (Houston and Utah).

I see the latter results replicated here, because Colorado’s defense is as good as either of those squads. Colorado is teetering at 3-2, and I think they’re primed for a breakout game. This is it. Home-field advantage gets it done, and I think CU can win by a touchdown. Let’s go Buffs.

R: Arizona (+6.5) at Colorado

Everyone expected Colorado to take a step back this year after losing so much NFL talent and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. Colorado is no slouch. Their only losses are to Washington, the favorite to win the conference, and to UCLA on the road in a one-possession game. The Colorado defense is one of the worst in the country when looking at passing downs success rate (at Football Study Hall) and the offense is only slightly better when they are in obvious passing downs. Colorado is a good, solid team at home, and while I think they get the win, I think it’s closer than the experts think.

Arizona has far exceeded my expectations thus far. I thought this team would give up heading into the season but they have shown that they are here to play. They did what they were supposed to do against UTEP and their defense did everything possible to get them a win over Utah last week. The offense gave up five turnovers in what amounted to a 6-point loss. Arizona’s defense gets the other team’s offense off the field and Colorado could struggle to keep Arizona’s offense off the field.

R: Stanford at Utah (+4.5)

This is going to be a gritty game. Even though Stanford plays at a very slow pace this one could get interesting. The Stanford offensive line has done an amazing job the last couple weeks. When the offense was without the starting quarterback and completely dependent on the run game, the offensive line got it done against UCLA. The line has pushed Bryce Love near the top of the Heisman projections in just a few weeks. Love has already rushed for over 1,000 yards this season.

The Utah defensive line could be a good counter to Stanford’s strengths. Sack Lake City can be a crazy place to play, especially when Pac12AfterDark rules apply for the 7:15 pm kickoff. I think quarterback Huntley and receiver Carrington could get a few explosion plays against a defense that hasn’t been very efficient and average against preventing explosion plays. If Utah is going to win they will have to establish a ground game. The Stanford secondary is much better than they get credit for and if Huntley is going to have to throw the Utes to a win then I don’t like their chances. However, I like them to cover the spread in what should be a close game.

-Uncommon Games (Pick 2)-

S: Georgia (-14) at Vanderbilt

Vandy’s defense is not as good as we thought it was. Georgia’s defense is as elite as elite can be, and doesn’t even seem to be trying that hard: it’s held its two SEC opponents to 3 and 0 points in two straight weeks. Georgia has also found a nice balance on offense with the two Quarterback Jakes playing well, and also with all-world RB Nick Chubb. With all those strengths, Georgia is straight-up dominating people: 5-0, 5-0 against the spread. I think Vandy will struggle to score 14 points. Georgia will have no problem scoring 30 even if they run every down. This line has migrated up to 17.5, so I’ll gladly take it at 14. Dawgs are on a roll.

S: LSU (+4.5) at Florida

I’m going with two-way SEC picks with my wild card selections. The rationale for this pick is this: LSU can’t be this bad, can they? Their talent level is roughly equal to that of Florida. LSU’s quarterback play with Danny Etling is probably about the same as Florida’s, now that Luke Del Rio is out and inconsistent (but talented) Feleipe Franks takes the helm. Florida has battled suspensions, distractions, and a bad offense to somehow still sit at 3-1. I think the luck runs out for Florida here. I think LSU comes together after an embarrassing stretch: throttled at Mississippi State, escapist win versus Syracuse, home loss to Troy. They’re probably super pissed off, and ready to roll. Matt Canada, LSU’s very-good offensive coordinator, has been apparently held back by head coach Ed Orgeron, but reports are that the blinders are now off for the offense. Take the points. I think LSU wins outright on the road.

R: Alabama (-25.5) at Texas A&M

Alabama has been demolishing every SEC team in their path. They beat Vanderbilt 59-0 on the road and then beat Ole Miss 66-3 at home. Saban is out for blood and does not ease up. I said it last week, but the Alabama offensive coordinator is fantastic. He uses a lot of personnel groupings, a lot of formations, and uses a lot of creativity in getting his guys open and maximizing Jalen Hurts’ strengths as a quarterback.

I thought the defense was going to dip after the Florida State game. The Tide didn’t have to blitz much in the last couple years to get a good rush but had to rely on some extra linebackers rushing against the Seminoles. However, the Tide have been just as dominant.

Texas A&M does fit the stereotype of a team that could give Alabama fits. The real problem Alabama may have had in their losses from 2012 until now might not be an agile quarterback, but a dominant receiver. There are many fast quarterbacks that still fell prey to a Saban defense, but the offenses with dominant receivers are the ones that prevail. Johnny Manziel had Mike Evans and Chad Kelly had Laquon Treadwell. The Aggies have receiver Christian Kirk who I think is the best in the country. However, I don’t think Kirk has the right guy throwing it to him to really exploit the Achilles Heel of the Tide defense. I think the demolition continues for another week.

R: Wake Forest at Clemson (-21.5)

I look like a real square better in these uncommon/wild card games. I picked big favorites. But they really mirror the college football landscape so far. It seems that Clemson-Alabama III is inevitable at this point. The two teams are playing on a different level than every other team in the country.

Wake Forest is coming off a close loss to Florida State at home. Now they go on the road after an emotionally, and probably physically, draining game. They only averaged 2.8 yards per carry against Florida State, so I’m expecting those numbers to be worse against Clemson. Wake Forest is 4-1, so they’re not terrible. They have big wins over Presbyterian, Boston College, Utah State, and then a close win over Appalachian State. Clemson is a big step up above all of them.

I’m picking Clemson this week for the same reasons I picked them last week. Their defensive line is just so good. It’s as dominating a force as Alabama’s offensive line. Like Alabama’s offense, the Clemson offense is using the strengths of the quarterback to be a centerpiece of the running game and avoiding some of his weaknesses passing. Like Alabama, I think Clemson is just so much better than everyone else that needing to beat a team by more than three touchdowns doesn’t bother me.