Behind the box score: CFB betting lessons from Week 9

By Adam Burke  ( 

November 1, 2021 08:30 PM

The first round of the College Football Playoff rankings will come out this week and will change a thousand times before the postseason actually arrives in December. We know that Georgia is really good. Beyond that, it is hard to know if any other team can string together enough good performances to make a clear case for the CFP.

This season has been full of misleading box scores and craziness and that will continue throughout the month of November. For now, let’s look back at Week 9 and highlight some games and angles that should create some good betting opportunities for this week and beyond.

East Carolina 29, South Florida 14

I won’t go so far as to say that USF is good, because that isn’t really the case, but the Bulls have played a lot better than their 2-6 record would indicate. South Florida actually led 14-6 at halftime, but East Carolina scored 23 unanswered points in the second half with a couple of short scoring drives, a pick-six, and a solid 80-yard TD drive.

USF was outgained 471-391, but had the yards per play edge in the game 6.50 to 5.48, as the Pirates ran 86 plays to just 60 for the Bulls. USF was 0-for-7 on third down and also had two turnovers on downs, both in the red zone. ECU was 5-for-6 on fourth down. Those were the main factors as to why the game played out like it did, but USF deserved a better fate and so did Bulls bettors.

Play on USF – The Bulls are battling. They didn’t cover last week, but will now face big underdog roles the next two games against Houston and Cincinnati, both at home. The Bulls look like a much better team under second-year head coach Jeff Scott and last week’s ATS loss on Thursday night might create some extra value.


No. 6 Ohio State 33, No. 22 Penn State 24

The narratives are flowing after the Buckeyes had trouble putting Penn State away in the first real test for Ohio State since the Oregon loss. What the 33-24 final fails to tell you is that the Buckeyes had 466 yards on 68 plays, so they averaged 6.85 yards per play compared to 4.86 for Penn State. Two things kept this game close.

The first was that Penn State was 11-of-16 on third down, while the Buckeyes were just 5-of-14. The second is that Ohio State only scored a touchdown on one of six trips into the red zone. The Buckeyes turned it over on downs once and kicked four field goals. Credit to the Penn State defense, as the Buckeyes were 23-of-29 in red zone opportunities prior to this game.

It felt like C.J. Stroud, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson all struggled in this game and Ohio State still had almost seven yards per play. This is a dangerous offense and better red zone efficiency would have led to a cover for the Buckeyes, even with that huge line.

Play on Ohio State – I have full confidence in Ryan Day to get the red zone issues ironed out. In Ohio State’s two marquee games, they’ve averaged 7.05 yards per play, but they’ve been viewed as unimpressive performances. The only way the Buckeyes can trip up is if they hurt themselves, as they did with turnovers against Oregon and red zone problems against Penn State.

Ohio State should be a good bet the next two games before taking on Michigan State on Nov. 20.


Middle Tennessee 35, Southern Miss 10

I was following this box score while unleashing a tirade of expletives. This was an under bet for me with two bad offenses and bad weather in Murfreesboro. The total closed 47.5 and this game should have never come close to that number. The teams combined for just 521 yards of offense and 6-of-27 on third down.

Southern Miss ran 82 offensive plays to 56 for the Blue Raiders, but MTSU had the 287-234 edge in yardage and held the Golden Eagles to just 2.85 yards per play. The 35-10 final seems pretty fair in that regard, but how we got there was the big story. There were nine combined turnovers in this game, with two fumbles and three interceptions from Southern Miss and three fumbles and a pick from MTSU. The teams also combined for five turnovers on downs.

Middle Tennessee had two defensive touchdowns and also returned a blocked punt for six. There was one scoring drive of more than 48 yards. Somehow the under made it thanks to a scoreless fourth quarter, but this sloppy, poorly-played game took a few years off of my life on Saturday.

Bet Southern Miss Unders; Fade Middle Tennessee – You can probably bet MTSU unders as well, but Southern Miss is pathetic on offense. The Golden Eagles have not scored more than 19 points in a game against an FBS opponent this season. Five different quarterbacks have thrown a pass this season and have combined to take 38 sacks in just eight games.

With last week’s anemic performance, Southern Miss is now dead last in the nation in yards per play on offense at 3.83. Take away the win over Grambling and the number is 3.48 YPP against FBS teams. A team this far under-the-radar might not be as noticeable for the sportsbooks, so there should still be some value here.

On the MTSU front, the Blue Raiders are tied for the top spot in the nation with a + 14 turnover margin. The defense is solid and the team is + 0.08 in yards per play differential, but that turnover luck should turn soon. If nothing else, fading MTSU at Western Kentucky this week and at FAU in the regular season finale makes a ton of sense.


Clemson 30, Florida State 20

Disgusting doesn’t even begin to describe the outcome for Florida State backers last week. Clemson won 30-20, covering the closing number of 9.5 in a game that exemplified why getting the best of the number matters. The Tigers managed to get to 30 points because of a series of laterals that eventually wound up in Florida State’s end zone at the end of regulation.

The Tigers did outgain Florida State 377-241 and ran 74 plays compared to 56 for the Seminoles, but Clemson certainly got fortunate to get to 30 points with just below 5.1 yards per play.

Keep betting Clemson Unders – Without the touchdown at the buzzer, Clemson would have played a sixth straight game to 48 points or fewer. The Tigers scored more than 20 points for the first time in four games. Even the 27-21 game against NC State went to overtime. The defense is still legit, but the offense is downright sad at this point. The Tigers are now 111th in the nation in yards per play, but seventh in yards per play allowed.


Purdue 28, Nebraska 23

The Scott Frost Experience was on display once again in Lincoln last weekend. The Cornhuskers lost yet again in a close game, falling 28-23 to Purdue because of Adrian Martinez turnovers. Martinez threw four interceptions, one of which was a pick-six, and was only 14-of-29 passing in the game.

Nebraska actually wound up with 6.88 yards per play in the game, but the turnovers were way too much to overcome. This has been a recurring theme with Frost and Martinez. The QB will exhaust his eligibility this season. Frost should also be gone, but we’ll see what the athletic department decides to do.

The defense held Purdue to 4.06 yards per play and still came up on the short end. This should have been a Nebraska blowout. Instead, it was another nail in the closing coffin of Frost.

Bet Nebraska Overs – The Cornhuskers face Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa going forward. They’ll have to win out to go to a bowl game and that seems extremely unlikely. Here’s the funny thing about the Huskers. They actually rank 21st in yards per play with 6.68 and 22nd in yards per play allowed with 4.97. From a metrics standpoint, you can justify the favorite roles and a high perception of this team.

Watching them week-to-week tells a different story. This is likely a lame-duck situation with Frost and the margin for error is nil with bowl eligibility. The turnovers put the defense in a bad spot and the offense has some playmakers. We should get really low totals with Wisconsin and Iowa and those may be good spots for a low over.

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