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Big winners Thursday? The OSUs and Astros

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

Both highly regarded OSUs won big Thursday night in college football. And, baseball’s Houston Astros were a big winner off the diamond with a midnight acquisition of Justin Verlander. Numbers, news and notes Friday in VSiN City.

College Football: Ohio State rallies from halftime deficit to blow past Indiana
It was great to see a reminder of an important lesson for handicappers so soon out of the gate in 2017. Teams who are going to “turn their programs around” with high energy passing attacks often wear out their own defenses in the process!

First Half Score: Indiana 14, Ohio State 13, 
First Half Yardage: Indiana 286, Ohio State 216

Second Half Score: Ohio State 36, Indiana 7
Second Half Yardage: Ohio State 380, Indiana 151

The Hoosiers were able to keep things very interesting well into the third quarter with a fast-paced attack. But because the game was taking FOREVER to grind clock with all the incomplete passes, their own defense ran out of gas in a way that led to a blowout loss. Yes, they ultimately passed for more than 400 yards. It only got them 21 points!

Ohio State (-20) 49, Indiana 21

  • Total Yards: Ohio State 596, Indiana 437
  • Yards-per-Play: Ohio State 6.9, Indiana 4.6
  • Rushing Yards: Ohio State 292, Indiana 17
  • Passing Stats: Ohio State 20-35-0-304, Indiana 42-68-2-420
  • Third Down Conversions: Ohio State 42%, Indiana 45%
  • Turnovers: Ohio State 0, Indiana 3

The “safest” way to win football games includes an effective ground attack. Turnovers are less likely to happen (as you see above). You can manage the clock effectively if you have a lead (OSU won time of possession about 32-28 even though Indiana won play count 95-86). And, most of the time, it’s easier to finish off scoring drives with touchdowns…particularly when the opposing defense is worn out. 

This is very important for fundamental handicapping because so many programs are now emphasizing fast break football. For schools, it’s easier to recruit because offensive playmakers want to show their stuff. It’s easier to sell tickets because fans don’t want to watch boring runs into the middle. The TV networks sure don’t mind more action, though the length of games is getting more difficult to manage. For stat handicappers? Potential headaches!

Do your best to take some air out of the passing stats (and fantasy points) that you hear the media raving about. Did Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow have a great night? If you focus on 420 passing yards and 3 TD’s, it seems like a monster performance. Turn it around and look at 25 incomplete passes, two interceptions, and only 7 points on the scoreboard in the second half…and he’s suddenly a big reason it all fell apart. Overall, Indiana passed 72% of the time, yet only managed 4.6 yards-per-play. 

The Hoosiers still have to face Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This dynamic should come up again for them. And it will certainly be a dynamic for serious handicappers to consider across the sport as more and more teams take flyers on this approach.

Next week Indiana visits Virginia. Ohio State hosts Oklahoma in one of the most anticipated matchups of the whole season. 

College Football: Oklahoma State (-19.5) tramples Tulsa 59-24
Oklahoma State definitely looked like a team that was capable of contending for the Big 12 title. It could turn out that Tulsa’s going to be horrible this season. For now, you can only be impressed. Note that an extended garbage time partially warped the boxscore stats. 

Oklahoma State (-19.5) 59, Tulsa 24

  • Total Yards: Tulsa 432, Oklahoma State 640
  • Yards-per-Play: Tulsa 4.4, Oklahoma State 10.2
  • Rushing Yards: Tulsa 244, Oklahoma State 332
  • Passing Stats: Tulsa 20-38-0-168, Oklahoma State 21-26-0-308
  • Third Down Conversions: Tulsa 62%, Oklahoma State 56%
  • Turnovers: Tulsa 2, Oklahoma State 2

The Cowboys led yardage 453-159 at halftime. That’s about 900-300 for a full game! In the second half, Tulsa was able to move the chains for relatively useless, superfluous yards while only scoring seven points. Oklahoma State’s TD’s came on drives of 74-81-52-75-77-80-65-20. A cheapie there at the end, but obliteration otherwise.

Tulsa has time to gear up for AAC play with Louisiana-Lafayette, Toledo, and New Mexico on deck. Oklahoma State will be on the road for South Alabama and Pittsburgh before Big 12 play begins September 23 vs. TCU. 

College Football: Thursday disappointments
We mentioned earlier this week that teams who “fail to score the spread” in their season openers are often waving a red flag about issues on offense. BYU was a qualifier last week in a desultory win over Portland State. From Thursday…

  • Minnesota -21 could only beat Buffalo 17-7, despite returning seven offensive starters against a defense that ranked #111 in the nation last season. Minnesota managed only 4.9 yards-per-play against an opponent it should have been able to bully.
  • Cincinnati -43 only beat Austin Peay 26-14. The two teams combined couldn’t score Cincinnati’s point spread! Cincinnati was outgained 313-248 even in victory. Hard to put into words how bad it is for a 43-point home favorite to gain less than 250 total yards in this current era of aggressive offense. 
  • Georgia State -15 was shocked by Tennessee State 17-10 in an upset loss to an FCS team. Georgia State was outgained 383-273.
  • Central Michigan -34 could only score 21 points in regulation in a game that would finish as a 30-27 triple-overtime victory over Rhode Island.

Connecticut almost made the list. But a late game-winning touchdown pushed them to a 27-20 victory as 22-point favorites over Holy Cross. 

The Friday night schedule features likely blowouts for projected powers Washington (-27 at Rutgers on FS1) and Wisconsin (-27.5 vs. Utah State on ESPN). Colorado State vs. Colorado is shaping up as the most entertaining matchup. But it was relegated to the Pac 12 Network. With that in mind, we’ll just jump ahead to Saturday previews.

Saturday Showcase: #1 Alabama faces immediate threat from #3 Florida State
Though this could certainly be a preview of a Final Four rematch come January, somebody’s going to have to come through “the losers’ bracket” to get there. Alabama has a great history straight up and against the spread when head coach Nick Saban has extra time to prepare. He’s had all summer to prepare! Florida State closed last season very well, and has more returning starters. Let’s run through our indicator numbers to see how things might play out.

#1 Alabama (14-1) vs. #3 Florida State (10-3) 

  • Against the Spread: Alabama 10-4, Florida State 8-4
  • Offensive Ranking: Alabama #34, Florida State #25
  • Defensive Ranking: Alabama #1, Florida State #22
  • Sagarin Schedule Strength: Alabama #1, Florida State #2
  • Athlon Returning Starters: Alabama 6 off/6 def, Florida State 5 off/9 def
  • Las Vegas Line: Alabama by 7, total of 49.5

Kickoff is at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on ABC in this game that will be played in Atlanta, GA. Alabama was so great last season that they covered 10 of 14 spreads even though everyone knew they were great. They couldn’t get the job done in the National Championship game against Clemson though. Florida State may not have Clemson-level talent yet. It can’t be too far off because FSU took Clemson to the wire last season in a 37-34 home loss.

Both teams return talented quarterbacks. Jalen Hurts for Alabama. Deondre Francois for FSU. Both teams posted great defensive stats last season while playing the two toughest schedules in the sport according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. Both teams know what’s at stake. 

On paper, it's a fantastic matchup. Handicappers must determine how much weight to give Saban’s preparation history…and how much weight to give their “big game/neutral field experience” with its returning talent. ‘Bama plays games like this all the time. FSU did reach the Final Four under head coach Jimbo Fisher in 2014 with Jameis Winston, but got blasted by Oregon 59-20. Not a great sign for Fisher’s preparation.

Saturday Showcase: #11 Michigan dealing with unknowns against #17 Florida 
Really tough to evaluate this one because Florida has suspended so many players. That can cause a “rally ‘round the flag” effort from everyone else in uniform. Or, it can leave gaping holes that can’t be filled against a quality opponent. Let’s at least spend a moment with what happened last season.

Michigan (10-3) vs Florida (9-4) 
Against the Spread: Michigan 6-7, Florida 5-7-1
Offensive Ranking: Michigan #58, Florida #116
Defensive Ranking: Michigan #1, Florida #5
Sagarin Schedule Strength: Michigan #49, Florida #25
Athlon Returning Starters: Michigan 5 off/1 def, Florida 9 off/4 def
Las Vegas Line: Michigan by 5, total of 43

Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC in a game that will be played in Arlington, TX. This would have been an interesting bowl game last year. Michigan was outclassed at the point of attack by Florida State, but lost a nailbiter thanks to non-offensive points. Florida drilled Iowa 30-3 to hopefully set the tone for continued improvement under Jim McElwain. 

You can see that both teams lost a lot of defensive starters from elite units…yet those defenses are still getting a ton of respect from the market. The Over/Under is only 43! Did you notice that we have both Alabama and Michigan as #1 in the nation on defense last season? They tied at 261.8 yards allowed per game.

The Gators announced that Feleipe Franks will start at quarterback. But they’ve been coy enough about it that any of the other options could end up seeing more playing time. Michigan’s Wilton Speight was inconsistent a season ago

We’ll certainly crunch the boxscore numbers in those two games when we return on Labor Day. We’ll also preview the Tennessee/Georgia Tech game set for that evening. 

MLB: Late night trade sends Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros
We thought this would be an all-football report. But after many of you had gone to bed late Thursday evening or early Friday morning, longtime Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander was traded to the Houston Astros for prospects.

Verlander has been in excellent form for weeks, which is just what Houston needs in what’s destined to be a pitching-rich American League playoff bracket. 

Verlander Since July 8

  • 9 of 11 quality starts
  • ERA of 2.31
  • 6.7 innings pitched per start
  • Strikeout to walk ratio of 84-20

And he hasn’t been padding his stats vs. an easy schedule. If anything, it’s the opposite. Nine of 11 opponents were in the playoff discussion in one league or the other. During that stretch he faced Cleveland, Houston, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and then Colorado at altitude. In those four games he allowed just three runs in 26.2 innings!

We’d say he’s playoff ready. 

Also worth remembering, Minute Maid is a great pitcher’s park. Too many in the media keep suggesting it’s a hitter’s park because of short dimensions. While it is a good home run park, other factors (like awkward visibility) make it difficult for hitters. 

According to ESPN’s Park Factor calculations, Minute Maid has been the BEST pitcher’s park in baseball for the second season in a row. Offense is down 18% compared to Houston’s road games (park factors compare what a team scores and allows on the road vs. at home). Home runs are 5% more likely, but doubles are 20% less likely, while triples are 36% less likely.

So, one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, who’s also a six-time All-Star, just got traded to a World Championship contender that plays its home games in the best pitcher’s park in the sport!

Verlander pitched Wednesday in Colorado. So, he won’t see action for the Astros until early next week on the road in Seattle, where Houston begins a long West Coast swing. 

This is going to be some postseason. We look forward to covering it for you on the air and right here in VSiN City.

Have a great holiday weekend! If you haven’t already subscribed to our free VSiN City newsletter, you can do so by clicking here. Did you check out this week’s free edition of our new subscription newsletter Point Spread Weekly? Click here to take care of that. You can follow us on twitter by clicking here. If you have any comments or questions about any of our broadcasts or publications, drop us a note or post a comment in the Facebook widget below. 

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