Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:55 PM
Upset Alerts - Week 14
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Flipping the script from two weeks ago when only the small underdog was able to cash, last week's plays finished with a 2-1 ATS record with the small underdog being the only one to come up short.
SMU was the lone team not to get the ATS win for us last week, as they blew a 21-10 halftime lead to get outscored 25-7 in the final 30 minutes. It was a 70-yard run from Navy QB Malcolm Perry midway through the 4th that broke a tie and proved to be the difference, as SMU just couldn't sustain drives (38% on 13 3rd down tries) and it proved to be the difference.
On the positive side of things, I finally got an ATS win this year going against Ohio State, as fumbling issues from the Buckeyes allowed Penn State to hang around for awhile and ultimately get the cover. Still not convinced that Penn State was the right side in that game given that they were gifted those turnovers that directly resulted in them putting up points or Ohio State not getting points, but a win is a win and I'll take it.
And finally, Arkansas may only be 3-8 ATS this year and have just two ATS wins since late September, bot both of those ATS victories came when they found their way into this piece as underdogs of 20+. The Razorbacks were able to sneak through the back door in the 4th quarter last week after things got away from them in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, but like Penn State's result, a win is a win and I'll take it.
Hopefully we can finish the regular season on a positive note as well with this week's plays. This can be a tricky week to handicap given the motivational issues that can be involved for numerous teams across the country, but if you can find the spots where they are likely to work in the underdog's favor, you may be able to catch an easy winner or two. That's what I'm looking for with this week's plays:
Upset Alert #1: Underdogs in the +1 to +9 range
YTD: 3-10 SU; 8-4-1 ATS
Michigan (+9.5) vs Ohio State
Stubbornness is not a word that's ever been foreign to my ears in my lifetime, and there probably is a bit of that going on here in once again fading Ohio State. I've definitely not made any friends this year that are Ohio State fans or alum, and given the overall results I've had this year going against the Buckeyes, those same Buckeyes backers have done quite nicely for themselves backing their team. But hopefully the saying “he who laughs last, laughs the longest” works in my favor here, as once again I believe this is too many points for Ohio State to be giving up.
To start, way back in the summer time when I penned this piece previewing the Big 10, I always had this game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines in mind. Obviously Michigan isn't going to win the conference in 2019, but HC Jim Harbaugh knows that his inability to beat Ohio State during his tenure at Michigan is going to be the hill he likely dies on in terms of keeping his job should he lose yet again. I had faith back in July that he'd be able to figure it out this year and lead his team to a conference title, and while that's no longer possible, it's put up or shut up time for him against the Buckeyes. It's hard to figure he won't get canned after the year with another loss to Ohio State, but it's a results based business and Harbaugh knows what he signed up for.
And while the narrative around Harbaugh centers on his inability to win this game at Michigan, the bigger picture of his tenure gets conveniently ignored. He comes into this week's game with a 30-4 SU record all time at home with Michigan (19-15 ATS), which includes a 1-1 ATS record as a home underdog – both against Ohio State. He had to come into the year knowing that this one game would be the determining factor of his future with the Michigan program, regardless of where he stood in relation to the conference title/CFB playoff picture at the time.
Obviously the latter doesn't apply now, and you could argue that it's been over a month – since the loss to Penn State – that Harbaugh and his staff have had their eye on peaking this week. The competition since the Penn State loss hasn't been formidable, but the Wolverines haven't allowed more then 14 points against in any of their four wins since then, and have averaged 41.5 points per game themselves. That's what I would suggest is “peaking at the right time”, and if Harbaugh does figure this is his last stand against the Buckeyes without producing different results, I think you've got to expect him to pull out all the stops he deems necessary to win and go out with a bang.
At the same time, Ohio State may have shot themselves in the foot a few times with those turnovers vs Penn State, making the final much closer then it should have been, but they did seem to tighten up in their first close game of the year (at least close in the 2nd half), and that's got to be a bit concerning for Ohio State backers this week. Yes, the counter argument to that is we've seen this story play out before and Ohio State always rolls Michigan, but things like that are always the same until they aren't.
QB Justin Fields is still nursing a hand injury that became problematic vs Penn State with those fumbles, and should the Buckeyes experience some early adversity for the first time this year, or find themselves in a tight game in the 2nd half for the first time on the road this year, I'm not so sure they'll rebound as easily as they did a week ago. The Big House is as hostile an environment as it gets for those wearing Buckeyes jerseys, and with this being the first time all season that Ohio State isn't at least a two-TD favorite to start, I think that's quite telling as well.
I don't believe they'll be able to play bully ball with their running game against Michigan like they did a week ago vs Penn State to establish an early lead. And with the tightness they showed as a group when things got close with the Nittany Lions, for this Ohio State team that's yet to trail at any point this year against a Big 10 foe, should they find themselves down early, Buckeyes backers/fans could end up with a scenario that Michigan fans/backers in this rivalry know all too well: Crap tends to roll downhill.
You'd better believe that if Michigan is on their game and senses fragility on the other side of the ball, they won't hesitate to let out years of frustration from this rivalry – Michigan has lost seven straight to Ohio State – and look to repay the 62-39 loss they suffered a year ago to halt the Wolverines redemption tour. Harbaugh has had too much success as a coach (at both levels) not to get past Ohio State once, and if this were to be the year, you know he'd have all those teams just outside the Top 4 in the rankings – cough, cough, Alabama – rooting hard for him to get it done.
Back in mid-July when that conference preview game out, the “Games of the Year” lines had Michigan laying about a FG for this contest. Obviously that would be a very egregious spread now with how things have played out, but I do expect this to be a game that's decided by a TD or less, with an outright win likely keeping Harbaugh employed in Ann Arbor and throwing a huge wrench into the CFP Playoff picture.
Upset Alert #2: Underdogs in the +10 to +19 range
YTD: 1-12 SU; 4-9 ATS
Kansas (+14) vs Baylor
Plenty of bettors in the market believed last week would be the ultimate letdown spot for Baylor after choking away the game vs Oklahoma the week before. And while those same bettors were always quick to remind everyone about Texas HC Tom Herman's great record as an underdog, what was conveniently overlooked was the fact that Texas is a team that had absolutely nothing to play for themselves after a disappointing year came well short of their goals. The Longhorns were in just as big of a letdown spot (if not more) then what Baylor was in, and the Bears still needed to win out to ensure a rematch with Oklahoma. Baylor got the job done and maybe with a 3-4 ATS record in Tom Herman's last seven tries as an underdog, that talk will be a bit more muted next time it comes around.
Now, we've got Baylor going out on the road to face a non-threatening Kansas team with that Oklahoma rematch on deck, and the majority of the market laying the chalk after the Bears proved them wrong a week ago. But wouldn't you think if there was ever going to be a “mental reset” or letdown type game for Baylor that this would be it?
After all, Texas is still Texas, a prestigious program in this sport, whereas any prestige Kansas gets for its sports comes on the basketball court. Kansas has long been a Big 12 doormat, and while Year 1 under Les Miles is going to finish with a losing record (3-8 SU pending), the building blocks have already been laid in the foundation of this football program for a potential turnaround.
Kansas has had some highs this year in beating BC as nearly a 20-point underdog, and putting huge scares in the likes of Texas and Iowa State. They still lack consistency in terms of having those types of efforts each week, but a 4-2 ATS run in their last six games overall – one of those losses came by the hook – this is just the type of spot where they could go out with a bang in 2019 and at worst put a scare in Baylor.
Remember, a loss essentially does nothing to Baylor's standing other then potentially losing confidence going into the Oklahoma rematch and having them drop in the rankings. There is no CFB Playoff potential for the Bears, and you've got to believe nearly all their energy is already being put towards righting the wrong from that loss to the Sooners. That's not a team you want to be laying two-TD's with on the road, especially when Kansas has nothing to lose and a coach who didn't get the nickname “Mad Hatter” for nothing.
I fully expect Les Miles to pull a trick or two out of his sleeve to give this Baylor team that's got no time for Kansas right now, all that they can handle.
Upset Alert #3: Underdogs in the +20 and above range
YTD: 3-10 ATS
Georgia Tech (+28) vs Georgia
Speaking of teams with plenty of focus directed towards next week and their conference championship game, the Georgia Bulldogs are in a similar position this week as they prepare for their showdown with #1 LSU in the SEC title game. Sitting in the #4 spot, Georgia winning the SEC title would assure them of a playoff ticket, which means, a rebuilding rival that has drastically overhauled their system this year like Georgia Tech isn't much of a concern.
But what is concerning is that Georgia's offense may be perfect on the year in scoring points when in the red zone, but they aren't capitalizing on those opportunities with TD's. The Bulldogs rank 87th in the country in TD's scored per game (2.9), as they haven't put up 30 points in six straight games. Obviously the quality of foe in some of those contests has a bit to do with that – something that Georgia Tech doesn't compare too – but a potentially distracted team (LSU on deck) that already has trouble putting up TD's and hasn't scored 30 points or more since the first week of October, is not one I want to be laying nearly 30 points with.
At the same time, I touched on the idea a few weeks ago that Georgia Tech is getting more and more comfortable in their new skin in the post triple-option era for the team. They still battle consistency issues, like say a Kansas team mentioned earlier, but when they put it all together they can hang with most and have been making life much more difficult then their opponents really expect. Outside of a no show effort vs Virginia in a 45-0 defeat, Georgia Tech's last handful of games have resulted in winning margins of no more then 10 points for the eventual winner. The Yellow Jackets have been on the right side of those results twice (beating Miami and NC State), and while they won't be here, it doesn't mean that they can't hang around long enough to get this cover.
Of course, now that I'm saying all this, this is the game where Georgia's offense gets right heading into the LSU showdown and puts up TD's on every drive. That could end up happening, but I'll have to see it to believe it, as it's been six weeks of touchdown scoring struggles for the Bulldogs, not just a game or two against a quality foe.
We also can't forget about the notion that Georgia has really only known this rival as a triple-option team, and while they do have 11 games of film from this year to study on the new look Yellow Jackets, there still has to be a bit of 'fear of the unknown' in knowing what to expect.
“Fear” is probably the wrong word there as Georgia should win this game comfortably, but for a Bulldogs team that's on a 1-5 ATS run against losing teams, and the huge game they've got on deck, this smells like a 17 to 24 point win for Georgia.