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Ducking the Odds: CFB Week 11 of the 2017 Season

Rusty and Sean return once again to pick the biggest games against the spread.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I picked washington to beat Oregon and while it did make me a feel dirty it needed to be done. It’s been a rare occasion that my record is better than Sean’s. The only games that will change our records relative to each other is Washington State’s and Oregon State’s.

Season

Rusty’s Record: 35-27-1

Sean’s Record: 33-29-1

Last Week

Rusty’s Record: 4-3

Sean’s Record: 3-3-1

Common Games

S: Notre Dame (-2.5) at Miami

Miami's defense is very good. Their offense is not. They've been skating by on defense and luck for 10 weeks. I think that ends here.

Notre Dame has already faced, and had success against, good defenses: Georgia, NC State, Wake Forest, USC. They won't be scared by Miami's defense. And Notre Dame's offense is improving by a week.

R: Notre Dame (-2.5) at Miami

Here we are, a game that could be a playoff quarterfinal between two top-10 teams. I know we all had Miami and Notre Dame in this exact spot before the season started. Miami undefeated into November and Notre Dame with only a single loss to #1 Georgia.

Miami has been through some grinding games. They had a decisive win over Virginia Tech last week in a game that many thought would either expose the Hurricanes or prove that their luck had run out. Obviously, neither scenario occurred and Richt’s squad gained even more validity. Still, four of the last five games have been decided by a single possession and have been playing for seven weeks straight.

The ‘Canes’ offense has relied heavily on explosive plays. They rank 6th in S&P+ in explosiveness but only 53rd in efficiency. Most of those explosive plays also happen on the ground. Miami has struggled in short distance downs when they need a conversion or a touchdown, ranking last, which will be problematic against a team that is above average in short down scenarios. Miami is going to have to establish a solid ground game to make third downs as easy as possible. Also, Notre Dame has been prone to giving up explosive plays on the ground while being excellent defensively against aerial attacks.

What really tips the scales for me though is the Irish’s strength in the trenches. Notre Dame has been dominant on the ground every week since the Georgia game. The physical nature of the offensive line has been the identity of the offense. They rank 2nd in S&P+ on the ground overall, 3rd in explosiveness, and 17th in efficiency. The Irish defensive line is also excellent against the run on a consistent basis, but with some exceptions where they can give up some big plays.

This game is going to feature a lot of back-and-forth action but I think Notre Dame is going to win the war in the trenches and come away with a win.

S: Georgia (-2) at Auburn

It's still unclear to me if Auburn is elite, or just really good. I err on the side of doubt in college football, and so I'll call them "really good," with the ability to choke away a game, Georgia, on the other hand, is playing relaxed and dominant football, and has the ability to control this one defensively. Auburn's defense is also super talented, but has shown weaknesses with big plays. Georgia's rushing attack is superbly effective. I think they can do enough to hold a lead, run some clock, and win this one. The 2-point line kind of scares me, but I just haven't seen enough from Auburn to trust them here.

R: Georgia (-2) at Auburn

Auburn has a real shot to ruin the playoffs. They face Georgia and Alabama in two of their next three games, getting both at home. Their only losses have been to Clemson on the road and on the road against LSU where Auburn completely blew the game in the second half.

Contrary to what we would expect from a typical Gus Malzahn team, the defense has been the key to success for Auburn this year. They are 4th and 3rd best defense against the run and the pass, respectively. Against the pass the Tigers don’t give up explosive plays either, so teams are going to have to earn the yards on the ground.

Georgia’s passing attack has been outshined by its ground game. Running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have nine touchdowns each and have combined for nearly 1600 yards. Both will probably reach 1,000 yards by the end of the season. That has covered up Jake Fromm’s 63.3% completion rate at 9.73 yards per attempt. The Bulldogs don’t have to lean on the freshman quarterback to win games but as long as the ground game is as dominant as it has been, Fromm will continue to make solid plays through the air.

I’m most excited for this game this weekend. Both teams are going to be flying around and hitting hard. This will probably be a low scoring affair, not because of a lack of offense, but because the defenses are going to be so well prepared for the opposing offense. I think the advantage the Georgia offense has over the Auburn defense is greater than the Auburn defense’s advantage over the Georgia offense.

S: washington (-6.5) at Stanford

Stanford's play-calling is just really bad. No matter who they put in at quarterback, they're really inefficient. They only have one home-run hitter (MIXED SPORTS METAPHOR), and that's Bryce Love. Now, he's a hell of a weapon, but with no one else around him, I'm not confident in this offense's ability to score - especially with how good the washington defense has quietly gotten.

UW absolutely destroyed the Christian McCaffrey-led Cardinal in Seattle last season. Stanford has no home field advantage of any kind to speak of, and I feel like they are in trouble here at home. Lay those points. washington by two scores.

R: washington (-6.5) at Stanford

I think these teams are further apart than the official rankings indicate. washington has one of the best defense’s in the country and even though Browning has had his moments of poor passes and decisions he’s been a solid quarterback. He sets up the rushing attack that keeps the offense balanced and makes way for the explosive play-action passes. Unfortunately, washington will probably go on to win the conference and make a spot in the playoffs as some of the other conferences cannibalize each other.

For one, both defenses are top-5 in terms of stopping explosion plays. Both teams are going to be grinding out long drives and play at a pace that favors Stanford. Mix in that Petersen hates night games and that they have a short week on the road and you could have a recipe for an upset. The huskies also won’t be able to set up plays as well as they did against Oregon, who looked atrocious in the third quarter on defense. Stanford doesn’t have the problems we have on defense and aren’t going to be exposed in the same fashion.

Having said all of that, I have to go back to how we saw this game play out last year. washington cruised to a win over what was probably a better Stanford team. Washington State was able to hold Stanford to 3.4 yards per carry and less than 50% completion rate for only 105 yards through the air. washington will quietly end up with a 21+ point win on the road.

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Wild Card

S: TCU (+8) at Oklahoma

This is a good matchup for TCU. I know everyone's in love with OU after that dominant Bedlam win, buuuuut let's remember two things: (a) TCU's defense is way better than Okie State's, and (b) the Sooners' defense still gave up 52 points. Oklahoma has been up and down all season despite a really talented offense, and I think they're facing a stiffer defense than any they've faced all season. Baker is great, but primed for a letdown after a marvelous performance against Oklahoma State. Take the points in this shootout, and look for a good TCU defense to do its job.

R: TCU (+8) at Oklahoma

This line is just way too big. I think one could make the case that TCU is just a better team than Oklahoma is, which would mean that TCU would be looking at a +2 spread or better. Both of these teams have faced many of the same opponents and both share a 7-point loss to Iowa State.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has probably put himself in a great spot to win the Heisman. He’s been the star in their biggest games and is looking at multiple NCAA records for passing statistics like yards per attempt and QB rating. He’s a phenomenal college quarterback who I hope can somehow make it work in the NFL.

Mayfield may not be able to cover for the abysmal defense the Sooners have. Even when considering that the Sooners play in the Big-12, the Sooners’ defense still ranks 115th in S&P+. TCU’s defense ranks 3rd. While Oklahoma’s offense is probably the best in the country they just can’t get any help from their defense.

TCU has shown the ability to shut down opposing offenses this season. They held Oklahoma State to 31 points but that total is misleading because Oklahoma State tallied 14 of those points in the fourth quarter when the game was well in hand for the Horned Frogs. Gary Patterson is going to have a good gameplan in place and is going to keep this close and I think they have a real shot with the win and the pole position for the conference championship game and a rematch with Iowa State.

S: Michigan State (+17) at Ohio State

Yeah, I'm not betting against Mark D'Antonio in a matchup with the Buckeyes, especially with as unsteady as the Ohio State offense appears. There is a blueprint now to dominate the Ohio State offense. You can almost guarantee D'Antonio is ready to replicate it.

Regardless of the specific matchup, it just seems overly optimistic to lay 17 points on Ohio State at this point. They needed a miracle to come from behind to beat Penn State two weeks ago. Other than that, they've been lackluster. Not a good time to be facing a re-toughened - and now, confident - Sparty squad, especially when MSU has had the Buckeyes' number in recent years. Michigan State can muck it up enough to keep this one close.

R: Michigan State (+17) at Ohio State

The Buckeyes will go only as far as JT Barrett can take them. When he is on, Ohio State can beat nearly anybody. When he’s off, Ohio State can have their worst loss in conference since 1994. Iowa forced four interceptions and averaged 6.4 yards per carry on the ground. There’s a real risk that since it is very unlikely that the Buckeyes will make the playoffs, that they could phone this one in and escape with a small win or maybe let Iowa beat them two weeks in a row.

Michigan State’s defense is fantastic against the run and will be able to make the Ohio State offense one-dimensional. The Spartans’ rush defense is one of the best in the country in both efficiency and explosiveness. Their pass defense, while above average, excels in limiting explosive plays. That means JT Barrett will have to grind out long drives on his own, which gives him a lot of chances to make mistakes.

The Spartan offense is not anything special though. They are one of the worst teams in the country on the ground but one of the most efficient through the air. Quarterback Brian Lewerke has a 60.9% completion rate but averages only 6.5 yards per attempt. He’s hitting a lot of short passes and also avoids a lot of negative plays, having thrown only 5 picks on 312 passes and he has a sack rate of 3.7%.

The spread here is just too big. Michigan State has shown the potential to make other team’s quarterbacks look bad and when their opponent is completely reliant on their quarterback making great plays for a whole game there can be some serious problems. The potential is there for Michigan State to get the win on the road.

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Conference Uncommon

S: Washington State (-2) at Utah

Utah's offense got back on track last weekend....but that was against UCLA's traffic-cone defense. Wazzu really impressed me last weekend with their win at home against Stanford. I think they'll disrupt Utah's offense enough to hold a lead. This feels like a 30-24 Wazzu win on the road in Salt Lake City.

R: Oregon State at Arizona (-22)

Part of me wants to consider the Oregon State squad as an entirely new team since Andersen departed as head coach. There are a couple factors that force me to see this team as the same group that we saw at the beginning of the season. The Colorado game was the “no one believes in us” situation where they come out guns blazing and with nothing to lose. They got Stanford at home on a Thursday night, which is always dangerous in Corvallis. That rule goes outside of football. Thursday nights in Corvallis get weird. And last week their poor road performance returned against Cal.

If this were not a road game I would say Oregon State covers this easily. But a night game on the road is too much for me to overcome. Oregon State’s closest loss on the road was 14 points to a Cal team that hasn’t been lighting up scoreboards the way Arizona has this season. The Beavers ranked 94th in defending the rush in terms of S&P+, and while they’re above average against explosion plays, Arizona is the 2nd most explosive rushing attack in the country.

Arizona has been good at home since Khalil Tate took over at quarterback and Oregon State doesn’t have the same personnel USC does to limit what Tate can do on offense. The Wildcat air attack is dependent on Tate being able to extend plays and always be a running threat. Even though Tate averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 26 carries, he was still contained in the pocket on passing plays and spied by a middle linebacker. He was forced to throw in ways he hadn’t been to so far this season and he finished with a 32.6 QBR.

While Arizona’s defense is really lacking I think Arizona is just going to blow out the Beavers. See a score like 49-21 is a real possibility. Tate’s not going to be forced to throw to keep Arizona in the game, nor is he going to be contained. I like the synergy between the Arizona offense and the night game at home.

S: Arizona State (+1) at UCLA

This one is pretty obvious: bet against the worst unit on the field, which is undoubtedly UCLA's "defense." (I put defense in quotes, because, well, it's not really defense.) Arizona State still does a lot of things average-to-good. And that's enough to outlast UCLA, which hasn't had a good showing in months. ASU wins in the mostly-empty Rose Bowl.

R: Arizona State (+1) at UCLA

This year’s draft class was supposed to be stacked at quarterback. Darnold has shown some real weaknesses, Josh Allen is looking average at Wyoming. And unfortunately, Rosen is unlikely to play this weekend.

Without Rosen, UCLA got blown out on the road. Rosen doesn’t play offense but the defense was under a lot of stress when their offense only converted on third down 25% of the time and had to defend 23 more plays than the Utah defense had to. UCLA’s offensive output was double by Utah in a game that was over in the third quarter.

Arizona State’s defense has the real potential to swarm UCLA backup quarterback Devon Modster. The constant blitzing could snuff out a rushing attack that is slightly above average and force Modster to have to make plays with his arm.