11/28/2014 01:51 PM
***WESTERN MICHIGAN (-7) 37 Northern Illinois 21
Fri Nov-28-2014 at 08:00 AM Pacific Rotation: 320 Over/Under 58.0
Western Michigan failed to cover the spread in their opener by 2 points but the Broncos have gone a perfect 10-0 ATS since then and they’re still underrated. Actually, this game is a combination of Western Michigan still being underrated and Northern Illinois being overrated. Northern Illinois has averaged 425 yards at 5.9 yards per play and they’ve allowed 419 yards at 5.7 yppl, which are actually bad numbers when you take into account that the Huskies have faced teams that would combine to average only 5.1 yppl on offense while allowing 6.0 yppl against an average FBS opponent. So, Northern Illinois is 0.1 yppl worse than average offensively and 0.8 yppl worse than average defensively. Overall, the Huskies line of scrimmage rating, which is a combination of total yards and yards per play adjusted for schedule strength, is 8.2 points worse than an average FBS team. NIU has faced an FBS schedule that is 9.0 points easier than average and they’ve only outscored those 10 opponents by an average of 1.5 points per game, which is 7.5 points worse than average on a compensated points scale. Either way you look at it the Huskies are a well below average team.
Western Michigan, meanwhile, is a bit better than average on a national scale. The Broncos have averaged 7.1 yards per play and allowed 5.4 yppl to a schedule of teams that would average 5.1 yppl and allow 6.2 yppl to an average FBS team. So, Western Michigan is 0.9 yppl better than average offensively and just 0.3 yppl worse than average defensively. From a points perspective the Broncos have outscored their opponents by an average of 12.6 points while facing a schedule that is 11.5 points easier than average, so they’ve been 1.1 points better than average in compensated points while rating at 1.4 points better than average from the line of scrimmage.
It’s clear that Western Michigan is a much better team from the line of scrimmage and the Broncos’ offense should surpass their average of 35.8 points per game given that they’re at home and facing a defense that is a bit worse than the average defense they’ve faced this season. Northern Illinois isn’t likely to keep up with an offense that has averaged a modest 28 points per game against teams that are a bit worse defensively that Western Michigan. My math model projects 492 yards at 7.3 yards per play for the Broncos while the Huskies are projected to gain a modest 384 yards at 5.7 yppl. NIU does have a slight advantage in projected turnovers (0.3 points worth) but Western Michigan has a 1.0 point edge in special teams and the Broncos should be favored by more than 10 points in this game. In addition to the line value Western Michigan also applies to a number of good situations, including an 85-29-1 ATS late season home momentum situation, while Northern Illinois applies to a 39-105-1 ATS road underdog situation. I’ll take Western Michigan in a 3-Star Best Bet at -7 points or less and for 2-Stars up to -9 ½ points (1-Star at -10).
***MARSHALL (-21) 54 Western Kentucky 23
Fri Nov-28-2014 at 09:00 AM Pacific Rotation: 324 Over/Under 74.0
Marshall’s habit of covering big numbers was temporarily interrupted last week in a deceiving 23-18 win as an 18 point favorite at UAB, but the Thundering Herd should return to business as usual at home against a defensively inept Western Kentucky team whose high flying offense hasn’t proven that it can move the ball against a good defensive team. Last week’s narrow 5 point win over UAB looks a lot closer on the scoreboard than it actually was, as Marshall outgained the Blazers 518 yards at 7.0 yards per play to 346 yards at 4.2 yppl and their overall line of scrimmage rating in that game was actually a bit higher than their season average. In other words, there is nothing wrong with the Marshall machine that is a perfect 11-0 straight up this season and is 12-3-1 ATS the last two seasons as a favorite of 14 points or more (8-1-1 ATS at home).
The part of this game that is pretty easy to handicap is how Marshall’s well-balanced and potent attack will score on nearly every possession against a Western Kentucky defense that ranks 120th in my compensated defensive ratings. The Hilltoppers have allowed an average of 36.8 points on 486 yards per game at 6.4 yards per play despite facing a schedule of worse than average offensive teams that would combine to average only 25.7 points and 5.2 yppl against an average defensive team. Western Kentucky hasn’t faced a team nearly as good as Marshall’s offense but the Hilltoppers have faced 5 mediocre or better than average offensive teams and they gave up 50 points or more to 3 of them (Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, and Louisiana Tech) and 42 points to Illinois. Three of those teams fall into the mediocre offensive category (and Old Dominion is better than average offensively) and today they face an elite offensive team that has averaged 45 points and 548 yards per game at 7.8 yards per play (against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average attack). Western Kentucky’s defense is 0.7 yppl worse than the average defensive rating of the teams that Marshall has averaged those 45 points against and my math model is projecting 657 total yards and 54 points for the Thundering Herd in this game. That may sound unrealistic but Marshall’s top 5 offensive games have averaged 642 total yards and they’ve topped 700 total yards twice – and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they did it again today.
While it’s pretty obvious to expect Marshall to score a lot of points, the real question is how many points Western Kentucky’s good offense can score – and more specifically if they can score enough to stay within 3 or 4 touchdowns. The Hilltoppers do have an excellent offense that has averaged 41.9 points on 508 yards at 6.8 yards per play while facing teams that would combine to allow 34.5 points and 6.1 yppl to an average offensive team. Marshall’s defense, however, is just as good as the Herd have yielded only 4.4 yppl to a schedule of FBS opponents that would average 5.1 yppl against an average defensive team. What I like about Marshall’s defense is that they played their best against the best offensive team that they’ve faced so far – holding Old Dominion’s better than average attack to just 14 points on 239 yards and 3.6 yppl. Western Kentucky, meanwhile, has faced only one good defensive team all season (Louisiana Tech) and the Hilltoppers were held to 10 points on 297 yards at 4.1 yppl in that game by the Bulldogs (a 59-10 Best Bet win). That’s just one game but it’s certainly an indication that Western Kentucky’s offense may be relatively worse against a good defensive team while Marshall’s defense has been relatively better against the better offensive teams that they’ve faced (perhaps because they play with more focus when challenged). The math model projects 405 yards at 5.3 yppl for Western Kentucky, which equates to 23 points.
The projected stats would predict a 31 point win for Marshall and another method I use that predicts what the true line should be (it’s a combination of the box score projected margin and the actual line and is based on the historical performance of my model) comes up with a true line of 26 points. There is certainly line value favoring Marshall and the Thundering Herd will play with plenty of focus and emotion at home as they attempt to close out a perfect regular season. Marshall applies to a 122-60-3 ATS late season angle that plays on home favorites with 1 or fewer losses and unbeaten (7-0 or better) conference home favorites of 21 points or more are 51-23-1 ATS. Western Kentucky, meanwhile, applies to a 22-58 ATS last game double-digit underdog angle. The combination of line value and supporting situations make this game a really good play and I’ll take Marshall in a 3-Star Best Bet at -23 ½ points or less and for 2-Stars at -24 points.