And just like that, it is Week 9 of the college football season. Last week was a treat, to say the least. Clemson helped us cash our tickets, and I am hoping to continue the trend into this week. After some surprising performances, I was extremely excited to get started on this week’s card. I instantly found some interesting lines that were very telling as to what oddsmakers think of some of the hot teams in the country right now.
Before we dive in, I want to note the importance of having a multi-layered approach to your sports handicapping. You cannot take a single angle and expect to be successful long term. Sure, trends, statistics, and “fading the public,” are all great to utilize, and will help you win. But sometimes, situational handicapping is just as important, if not more. Sometimes, the statistics are skewed and do not provide us with a true representation of how teams match up with each other. We have to read between the lines, understand what they mean, and then apply them to what we have seen on the field. Week 9 presents us with a unique opportunity to do just that.
This spot only comes around a handful of times every season, so it is pretty cool to see it has potentially three matches this week alone. Admittedly, this is not a very large sample size, but I think this system is a great example of how to consider situational handicapping when ultimately deciding who to back. This little system is an extension of a larger one that I have, so I am not going to share the filters exactly.
Hitting 75% of the time, it is very profitable to fade ranked conference road teams if they are coming into the game as a small-to-medium-sized underdog on a 3-game winning streak. Our natural instinct is to think that a team flying high on a 3-game winning streak should be favored in their upcoming game, especially as a ranked team. But, it is that very instinct that will cause you to fall into the trap of recency bias. I like to think of it this way: when the oddsmakers set the lines, they are telling you a story. The oddsmakers know everything that we know, and then some. It is the oddsmakers job to ensure they themselves do not fall into the trap that is recency bias. With all of the information available to us today, lines are as tight as they have ever been. So, let us take some time to look beyond the lines in a few games this Saturday, and discover the meaning behind them.
Iowa @ Penn State (-6)
Iowa (6-1) comes into this game on a three-game winning streak, beating their opponents by an average of 22 points per game and climbing into the Top 20 at 18. Penn State, ranked 17th, limps into this game having lost two of three, dropping from the Top 15. Iowa is most certainly the hotter team, but I do not think they are the better team. The Hawkeyes have a big test ahead of them Saturday, in one of the most hostile environments in college football.
While their winning streak and record overall is impressive, Iowa has yet to play anyone of significant talent. Their last three opponents have a combined three wins in Big Ten conference play. Allowing only 79.6 rushing yards per game and 2.7 yards per attempt, the numbers say that Iowa boasts an elite rush defense, and they do, but is it as elite as the numbers say? Only two of Iowa’s seven previous opponents rank in the top 50 in rushing yards per game and rushing yards per attempt, Wisconsin and Maryland. Wisconsin, who ranks fourth and fifth respectively in the previously mentioned statistics, beat Iowa in Iowa City by double digits. Overall, Iowa ranks seventh in defensive yards per play, but has played four teams ranked in the bottom 40 in total offense and one FCS team.
On the road, Iowa averages 45 points per game while only allowing an average of 14.1. However, missing behind those numbers is the context of Iowa’s road games. Iowa has played only two road games on the season, at Minnesota and Indiana. Minnesota ranks 97th overall in total offense and 75th in total defense. Indiana ranks 59th overall in total offense and 69th in total defense. Needless to say, I do not think Minnesota and Indiana are the most challenging of places to play. At least, definitely not to the level of Happy Valley. Penn State ranks 15th overall in total offense. To compare, Wisconsin ranks 29th. Penn State will be by far the most potent offense Iowa has seen, and the Hawkeyes have to figure out how to contain the Nittany Lions at home.
Penn State may be coming into this game on a downward skid, but they are certainly battle tested, and I believe head coach James Franklin will have his boys ready. Penn State has played against two top 20 teams in total offense (App State and Ohio State), yet still ranks 28th in yards per play allowed. Their defense is young, and they have struggled in the fourth quarter at times, but I do not think Iowa, who ranks 76th in total offense and averages only 6.5 points in the fourth quarter, is going to pose problems for Penn State like App State and Ohio State.
Iowa ATS Trends L3 Seasons: 4-7 as underdog, 0-3 when underdog of 3.5 to 10 pts, 6-6 on the road, 12-9 vs. conference, 10-7 vs. teams with winning records
Penn State ATS Trends L3 Seasons: 16-10 as favorite, 11-7 at home, 15-8 vs. conference, 12-6 vs teams with winning record, 16-1 off win vs. conference rival
According to SportsInsights, over 70% of the spread AND moneyline bets are on the Iowa Hawkeyes, yet Penn State, who opened as 5.5 point favorites, are now listed as 6 point favorites, and even 6.5 in some places. Oddsmakers are confident that the Nittany Lions will take care of business at home, and so am I. I am taking the home team and laying the six points.
Penn State 35 – Iowa 17
Washington State @ Stanford (-3)
Washington State’s schedule makes Iowa’s schedule look hard. Ranked 63rd in strength of schedule, the 14th-ranked Cougars come into this game against the 24th-ranked Stanford Cardinal with a 6-1 record, while going undefeated against the spread. Stanford (5-2), who ranks 18th in strength of schedule, has lost two out of their last three games; but are coming off a hard fought victory at Arizona State. That game was last Thursday, so the Cardinal have some added rest and preparation coming into their showdown with Washington State. Washington State, coming off of an emotional high in a win at home against Oregon, could find themselves in a prime letdown spot. The Cougars looks very good on paper, but I worry about them on the field against a gritty, pro-style, Stanford team.
Washington State, who ranks 18th overall in total defense, has played three teams who rank in the bottom 30 in total offense, as well as an FCS team. Their best test came last week against an Oregon team ranked 30th in total offense. Stanford, ranked 106th in total offense, may not have an elite offense. However, I do believe that their offensive numbers are a little skewed and that they are better than the stats say. Aside from their one FCS opponent, Stanford has not played a team ranked below 67th overall in total defense. They have been tested every week by good defenses, which will pay off in this game.
Over the last three seasons, Stanford is 13-3 straight up at home and 21-4 straight up as favorites. They have a true home field advantage in the Pac 12 and I think that plays a part in the way this line has been set. Oddsmakers see that Washington State is 6-1 and undefeated this season against the spread. But, they also see that Washington State is 7-5 ATS (5-7 SU) as an underdog in the last three seasons and 7-6 ATS and SU on the road. They see that Washington State’s defense struggled in a hostile environment at USC. They see that Washington State barely survived at home against Utah. They are simply not convinced that Washington State is ready to take the next step.
Something to keep in mind: per SportsInsights, a vast majority of early money and bets wagered on this game are on Washington State, yet the line has moved towards Stanford. Over 90% of the money wagered on the moneyline so far is on Washington State.
Because of Bryce Love’s injury issues this season, Stanford has not been able to reach their full potential. It seems that their entire offense has run through wide receiver, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. I like Stanford to win this game, but because of the ailments to Bryce Love and because Washington State is so electric through the air, I am going to take Stanford on the moneyline rather than against the spread. At the time that this article is bring written, Stanford is listed as a -145 favorite.
Stanford 33 – Washington State 30
Texas A&M @ Mississippi State (-2)
The 16th-ranked Aggies of Texas A&M travel to Starkville as small underdogs to meet the Bulldogs of Mississippi State, who are coming off an ugly loss at LSU. I was truly shocked to see this line, until I did some digging.
Yes, the Aggies are on a three game winning streak. However, each of their last three wins have come by a margin of 7 points or less: a win at home against lowly Arkansas by 7, a gritty 6-point win at home against Kentucky, and a 3-point win at South Carolina that very well could have been a loss if Jake Bentley was not so terrible in the first half. Both of these teams have been more than tested this season, as both rank in the top 6 in strength of schedule. Yet, both of these teams still rank in the top 25 in total defense. This is going to be your typical grind-it-out, SEC match up.
Over the last three seasons, Texas A&M is 2-10 straight up (7-4 ATS) as an underdog and 5-5 (6-4 ATS) straight up on the road. They are 0-2 straight up as underdogs this season, and 1-1 straight up on the road in Jimbo Fisher’s first season as head coach.
At home, Mississippi State is 10-7 against the spread (11-6 SU) over the last three seasons, with a 3-1 ATS and SU record this season. Mississippi State is 14-6 straight up as favorites over the last three seasons, but they have struggled to cover the spread over that span. They seem to be getting on track this season with a 3-2 ATS record as favorites.
Texas A&M is coming off of a bye. That itself is not interesting, but the context behind it is definitely interesting. Over the last three seasons, Texas A&M is 0-4 straight up coming off of a bye week. I realize that they have a new coach this season, so I was not going to use that against them, until I looked at Jimbo Fisher’s track record coming off of byes. In his time at Florida State, Jimbo went just 5-4 straight up in the games following a bye week. The four losses came in 2010, 2011, 2016, 2017. I am expecting this trend to continue, and for Mississippi State to be hungry coming off of an embarrassing loss at LSU. Like with Stanford, I am going to give myself the extra cushion and take Mississippi State on the moneyline, currently listed at -120 on Bookmaker.
Mississippi State 21 – Texas A&M 20
Best of luck!
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