Analyzing CFB situational spots

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

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We’re not quite at the point of getting football every day, but MACtion is right around the corner and the Sun Belt has already started its midweek games. Certainly those prime-time weeknight affairs will create some situational spots, especially for schools that don’t get a lot of exposure otherwise.

We actually have nine games from Wednesday-Friday this week, along with the usual heavy slate Saturday. Three of those games are highlighted here, but be aware they are increasing in frequency.

We don’t really think about the grueling nature of the college football schedule in the same manner we do with the NFL. But make no mistake that the season is starting to take a toll on the college kids, so you’ll want to be vigilant looking for injuries or rest advantages the rest of the way.

Here are some situational spots for Week 8.

Thursday

Louisiana (-18, 70) at Arkansas State

Last week’s game was personal for Louisiana. Even though Appalachian State is in the other division, the Mountaineers beat Louisiana twice in 2018 and ’19, and the second game was the Sun Belt championship game. Louisiana got revenge in 2020 and then pummeled the Mountaineers last week 41-13.

Louisiana is on a couple of extra days’ rest and preparation here against an Arkansas State team that cannot stop anybody’s offense, but this still isn’t the best of spots for the Ragin’ Cajuns. The Red Wolves haven’t played in two weeks, so they’ve had a lot of time to smooth out the rough edges with first-year coach Butch Jones.

If nothing else, a lack of defensive focus from Louisiana against a much different type of offense could lead to points. I’d lean with Arkansas State plus the points but do like the Over here, as Louisiana got what had been a pretty dormant offense going last week.

San Jose State (-5, 46.5) at UNLV

This is a bad spot both ways. San Jose State lost a heartbreaker 19-13 in double overtime at home last week against No. 24 San Diego State. The Spartans had a chance to knock off a ranked team and rush the field but opted to settle for Matt Mercurio’s 52-yard try that missed at the end of regulation.

UNLV fell to 0-6 as the woes during the Marcus Arroyo era continued with a 28-24 loss to Utah State. It was UNLV’s fourth one-score loss of the season. The Rebels actually led 17-7 after the first quarter and had allowed only a kick-return touchdown, but they scored just seven points the rest of the way.

UNLV is in the short-rest spot here after playing Saturday. San Jose State is also on short rest but played Friday night. The travel day will pretty much even that out.

To further complicate this game for UNLV, the in-state rivalry game in Reno against the Nevada Wolf Pack is next week. There is no reason for an 0-6 team to look ahead, but the season is defined by what you do in that rivalry game for a team like the Rebels.

I’m guessing this is a really ugly game, so the Under is the look here, but there are a lot of spot considerations both ways.

Friday

Middle Tennessee (-15, 55.5) at UConn

Middle Tennessee heads to Storrs on extra rest to take on the Huskies. UConn ended an 11-game losing streak with a win over Yale, but the Huskies still haven’t beaten an FBS team with a conference affiliation since 2017.

The goal for every non-playoff contender is to make a bowl game. Players want to experience the fun and festivities of a neutral-site game with a complimentary swag bag and a chance to play in front of a national TV audience with scouts looking on. For MTSU, this game becomes a must-win. The Blue Raiders have two wins, one over Monmouth and the other a nice win over Marshall. Southern Miss is on deck, and the Golden Eagles look like one of the worst teams in college football.

Teams in that kind of situation should have some extra juice. UConn could also suffer something of a letdown off a win and with a close loss two weeks ago to UMass.

A trip to Connecticut in the middle of conference play is a strange scheduling spot, but more is on the line for MTSU than meets the eye, and a veteran coach like Rick Stockstill should be able to convey that to his players. I think Middle Tennessee rolls here.

Saturday

Northwestern at No. 8 Michigan (-23.5, 51)

Conference play creates some really interesting situational spots because of rivalry games, much like the spot for UNLV this week. Michigan is in a similar spot here, staring down a top-10 matchup against Michigan State next week. We’ve already seen Michigan play down to inferior competition this season with ugly wins over Rutgers and Nebraska. Could we be in for more of the same here?

The Northwestern defense is 96th in yards per play allowed, which is astonishing with a coach like Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats haven’t been outside the top 60 in that stat allowed since 2011. I don’t see outright upset potential here, but this feels like a very clear lookahead situation for Michigan. It isn’t even just the Spartans game. Michigan still has Penn State and Ohio State on the slate. There are much bigger things on the horizon for the Wolverines than a huge favorite role against a bad Northwestern team.

The spread is the great equalizer in a game like this. Northwestern doesn’t seem to stand much chance to win, but covering a big number with a low-scoring expectation for an early kickoff in Ann Arbor? Consider me very intrigued.

No. 16 Wake Forest (-3.5, 52) at Army

I talked last week about the head-scratching spot for Wisconsin hosting Army in the heart of Big Ten play. The Badgers were never in danger of losing but also never came close to covering the spread. The spread was 14, and Wisconsin scored only 20 points in the 20-14 win.

At least the Badgers didn’t have to travel to West Point. Wake Forest does. One potential saving grace for veteran coach Dave Clawson is that the Demon Deacons were on a bye last week, so they’ve had plenty of time to prepare. But you have to think they’ve also mixed in some prep for Duke in Week 9 or North Carolina in Week 10.

Wake Forest has scored at least 35 points in every game but ranks 57th in yards per play and 67th in TD percent in the red zone. With a limited number of possessions likely coming in this game, the Demon Deacons will have to be really efficient, especially given the spot and the circumstances of defending the triple option. 

Doesn’t this line say a lot about the spot? We have a ranked Power 5 team laying only 3.5 against a team that lost to Ball State two games ago. Smells fishy.

LSU at No. 13 Ole Miss (-9.5, 75)

There is a lot to unpack with this game. The obvious starting point is LSU and the announcement that Ed Orgeron will leave after the season. The Tigers are officially playing for a lame-duck coach now, which we pretty much expected.

Lane Kiffin is anything but a lame-duck coach, but the last three weeks have been full of taxing games for the coach and the players. Kiffin has a history with Alabama. The Arkansas game was simply insane with a 52-51 win for the Rebels. The Tennessee game was another in which Kiffin had a lot of history with the program and he got some new range balls and a bottle of mustard from the fans out of it.

A hobbled Matt Corral takes on an LSU team that is a major unknown this week. The Tigers are in the midst of a rough season but still rallied enough to knock off Florida. Orgeron’s offensive line finally got things going, which had been a big concern of mine throughout the season.

Truth be told, sometimes situational spots just have way too much going on, and this feels like one of them. We don’t really know how the LSU players will react until they get between the lines. Ole Miss is ripe for a letdown after the last three games. Corral is not fully healthy. Maybe those are the openings LSU needs to keep this close.

No. 24 UTSA (-7, 59) at Louisiana Tech 

Meep meep! UTSA is ranked for the first time in program history after getting off to a 7-0 start. Going undefeated is genuinely on the table for UTSA, as the toughest remaining game is at home against UAB. You notice, however, that this line isn’t all that big against Louisiana Tech.

That first game after getting ranked is tricky, but the Roadrunners are very well-coached by Jeff Traylor. Louisiana Tech managed only three points last week against UTEP after the bye week, which is not a good look at all.

Even though UTSA fits that angle of just having been ranked, I don’t think this is the game to worry about. I think the one after the bye week against a much-improved UTEP team in El Paso when UTSA is up even higher in the polls is the bigger concern.

The Roadrunners actually seem like a fairly decent bet this week, even with some really close wins against better competition.

No. 22 San Diego State at Air Force (-4, 40)

Anytime an unranked team is favored over a ranked team, it stands out. This game is littered with situational-spot considerations. First, San Diego State narrowly survived its first game as a ranked team last week against San Jose State. Second, SDSU is heading to extreme elevation for the first time. Tucson is about 2,400 feet in elevation, and San Diego State won that game comfortably, but Arizona is terrible. Air Force is not. The Falcons are 6-1 and had 619 yards of offense, including 437 on the ground, against Utah State in the lone loss.

Third, the Aztecs are really stepping up in class here. Utah looks a lot better, so that win is getting better by the week, but San Diego State has played the 143rd-ranked schedule. Air Force hasn’t played a great schedule, either, but the elevation and the offensive scheme are two huge factors.

I hate everything about this spot for the Aztecs. They’re still ranked, though they shouldn’t be. They’re going to altitude and they’re off an overtime game in which the defense was on the field for 77 plays. San Diego State has a very inefficient offense and a limited number of possessions to work with here. Air Force should deal the Aztecs their first loss of the season and cover this spread.

New Mexico State at Hawaii (-18, 59.5)

New Mexico State has no conference affiliation, so the schedule is filled out with any opponent that will take a game. In the case of Hawaii, the schools agreed to play each other twice. The first meeting was Sept. 25 in Las Cruces, and Hawaii won 41-21 as a 17-point favorite.

Now the scene shifts to Honolulu, where Hawaii is again lined in the same range. The state is not allowing fans at Hawaii games this season, so the Warriors have been playing in front of crowds only on the road.

This is the third straight roadie for New Mexico State, but the Aggies did have a bye last week. They actually have a bye again next week. It is hard to see this game going any differently from the first one, but the regular-season rematch is very rare, so it merits a mention. Hawaii had nearly 8.5 yards per play in that first meeting. New Mexico State had 401 yards, but that came on 88 plays. Hawaii should take care of business and likely cover this number.

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