week we were 7-3, bringing the season record to 11-7 (61%). This week we are beginning to look at statistically significant averages for the college football teams, all of which have played at least three games.
The key statistics I look at are offensive and defensive yards per point, or YPP. This statistic tells you whether a team is efficient.
On average, a team will score a point for every 14 yards it gains. A team that averages 10 yards a point is an efficient offensive team. Conversely, a defense that permits a point for every 10 yards given up is a poor defense. The difference between a team's offensive efficiency and its defensive efficiency is the YPP differential. For example,
has a 10.2 YPP on offense and has a 20.3 YPP on defense, for a differential of 10.1.
The top 10 positive differentials are:
While the YPP differential is helpful to handicapping by focusing our attention on a team's offensive and defensive efficiency, one must also look at who the team played to determine whether the statistic may be misleading. In
case, the statistic is misleading because the Gophers played three patsies:
case, it is a solid statistic because the Huskers have played four decent opponents,
This Week's Picks
Army (plus 12 1/2) over East Carolina
A tough spot for
. It's coming off a huge upset victory over
and playing its fifth game in five weeks. For the last three weeks the Pirates have been on the road, even though last week's Miami game was a "home" game at
stadium that had been moved because of the flooding in Greenville caused by Hurricane Floyd.
Many of the Pirates' players saw the devastation wreaked by Floyd for the first time this week, including the destruction of many of the players' living quarters. Now the ECU must prepare for an option team that is averaging 339 yards rushing per game and is getting a number of its key defensive players back. To boot, the game is on the road and a bet on Army gets you a 12 1/2-point cushion.
is 14-8 against the spread as a home underdog and the Pirates are only 5-8-2 ATS on artificial turf since 1993. The "money line" on this game is 5-1 (i.e., where you bet the game straight up with no points). I am betting on both the money line and the point spread because I think Army has a decent chance to win this game outright.
Illinois (plus 2 1/2) over Indiana
Last week I played against
because I correctly believed that
is one of the premier teams in the country. This week, I believe the Illinois quarterback, Kurt Kittner, will put up many points against a porous Indiana defense that has given up an average of 427 yards per game. While the Hoosiers' QB, Antwaan Randle-El, is developing nicely and will score points against the Illini defense, we don't believe Indiana's offense will be able to overcome its porous defense. Illinois is 3-1 ATS this year and Indiana is 1-3 ATS. Illinois has a positive-5 YPP while Indiana has a negative-1.9. Illinois showed it could win on the road with a victory over Louisville two weeks ago.
Navy (plus 10) over West Virginia
doesn't have a great deal of talent, I believe the Middies have enough to take
to the wire in this game. The Mountaineers lost starting QB Mark Bulger last week and sophomore Jeff Lewis will take his place. Don Nehlen, WVU's coach, will play this game conservatively, making sure that Lewis won't lose it alone. Navy is 13-3 ATS under Charlie Weatherbie. The Midshipmen average 382 yards on offense and give up 389 yards. West Virginia (with Bulger) averages 318 yards on offense but gives up 424. This game should be close all the way and we think 10 points is enough to give us a sufficient cushion to make a bet on the Midshipmen.
Alabama (plus 17) over Florida
Another game in "the Swamp," where
is almost never beaten. We don't expect
to beat the Gators, but we do expect the Tide to hang around with them. Alabama is 8-1 ATS in its last nine games as a road underdog. Statistically, these teams are not that far apart, with the Gators averaging 518 yards on offense while giving up 367, and the Tide averaging 412 yards on offense and giving up 325. Florida is also banged up on offense. Florida native Andrew Zow is the QB for Alabama and the Tide have a great running back in Heisman Trophy candidate Shaun Alexander. They aren't afraid to play on the road and we think they will stay within the line.
Memphis (plus 2) over Missouri
We were very impressed with the
effort in the game last week on the road against
. Although Memphis lost on a last-minute touchdown, the stats from the game show the Tigers actually outplayed the Vols. They had a 12-10 first down edge, held Tennessee to 44 rushing yards on 32 carries (1.3 yards per carry) and outyarded Tennessee 228 to 172. That game was no fluke since the Tigers also took
to the wire.
rolled over last week against
. For the whole season, these Tigers are giving up an average of 5.6 yards per rushing attempt. Memphis is 6-2 ATS on their home field, the Liberty Bowl, and while Missouri has been an exceptional road team over the last few years (11-2 ATS) we think this year's edition is doesn't have the talent level of last year's team. We'll take the better team getting points at home.
Virginia Tech (minus 5) over Virginia
This line opened at VT minus 2 1/2 and has slowly moved up all week. We agree with the move since this
defense is stifling. The Hokies have given up just 51 yards rushing (1.6 yards per carry) and 113 yards passing (3.9 yards per pass) per game; these are exceptional statistics. The Hokies also have the best special teams in the country and we won't be surprised to see them block a punt against
. One big special teams play erases this point spread. Virgina Tech also has an additional two days to prepare for this game since it played last Thursday, while Virginia played in Provo, Utah, last Saturday night and didn't get back home until Sunday afternoon. While Virginia showed some great offense against a Morris-less
squad last week, we can't forget that the Cavs were soundly beaten at home by a mediocre
team three weeks ago. The Hokies are a legitimate candidate for a New Year's Day bowl game, and dispatching their in-state rival won't hurt their chances.
Ohio State (minus 7) over Wisconsin
was in a great spot to upset
and blew it. Their offense is Dayne left, Dayne up the middle and Dayne right. The Badgers' offensive coordinator has no imagination and this team is dead in the water unless it can dominate the line of scrimmage and spring Dayne for long runs. Ohio State is not a team the Badgers can do this against. OSU is 19-3 when favored by 15 points or less. The Badgers are only 1-5 ATS as road underdogs since 1996. The Buckeyes are not a great team this year, but they have enough to take care of the unimaginative Badgers.
San Diego State (plus 2) over Air Force
Ted Tollner finally has realized that
transfer QB Russell is a bust, so he went with junkor-college transfer Hawley last week. He was rewarded with a 572-yard offensive performance against Kansas, including seeing Hawley complete 19-24 passes for 343 yards. We think
San Diego State
is a better team than it has showed this year. Its defense is solid, but has broken down often because of the time it has had to spend on the field due to the Aztecs' lack of offense. We imagine that Tollner will closely watch the films of how
slowed down the Flyboys last week and implement those successful techniques. We think that the Aztecs' more diversified offense will get the home-field win over the one-dimensional
Texas-Kansas State (under 52 points)
This is the first recommended over-under play of the season. An over-under bet is simply one where you decide whether the combined points of both teams will be over or under the posted total. The bettor lays the same 11-10 odds as on a regular point-spread bet. Because of public perception of these two teams, and the fact that the game is on regional TV, the total is 5 points too high. Lost in the excitement over
offensive performances this year is the fact that the Longhorns' defense is greatly improved from last year and that they take pride in their defense under Coach Mack Brown.
had six defensive starters return from last year and filled most of the remaining positions with junior college players. The Cats' QB this year, Jonathon Beasley, is a big step down from last year's QB, Michael Bishop, and we think that the K-State coaching staff will play the game close to the vest and rely on defensive strength. The Longhorns should be smart enough to keep the kickoffs and punts out of David Allen's hands -- even if you give the Wildcats possession of the ball on the 35-yard line.
Miami of Ohio (plus 4) over Marshall
I liked this game a lot more before
lost its star receiver, Sly Johnson, in last week's game against
. Having said that, I am still willing to take 4 points with the Redhawks in a revenge game at home against a nationally ranked
team. Miami has the MAC's best running back in Travis Prentice and a good but not great QB in Mike Bath. In reading the Ohio newspapers this week, it is clear that the Redhawks have decent depth at receiver and that those players are ready to step up for this de facto MAC championship game. Marshall has one of the best QBs in America in Chad Pennington. The Thundering Herd also has a very good defense and a balanced offense. This pick is similar to my pick on Wisconsin (a loser) last week. The situation and the emotion of the game (including a sellout crowd of 30,000) greatly favor the home team against a more talent-laden visitor. Anytime I get more than a field goal in this situation, I take it.
North Carolina (plus 5 1/2) over Clemson
The line on this game has been rising steadily and might reach 6 by game time, based on the public's perception of the blowout victory by Florida State over
. The reality is that these teams are dead even and while
should get 3 points for home-field advantage, the line has moved so much that the Tar Heels now offer value. North Carolina has won the last three games against Clemson and has the superior quarterback in Ronald Curry. Clemson QB Brandon Streeter is having success in the Bowden offense but is an immobile target for the Tar Heel defense. North Carolina had a players-only meeting following the Florida State game and we think you'll see a rejuvenated Tar Heel team.
Because of repeated requests by readers, we will be writing another Vegas Vice column, which will be posted on Saturday and cover the NFL games on Sunday and Monday. Look for it.
Barry Lieberman is the general counsel for a Las Vegas gaming company and an associate of James Padinha. He's been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years.