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Saturday Fun: After a perfect week we go all out with some CFB metrics

Andre Simone Avatar
November 4, 2016


As often happens in life you start something simply for the fun of it and then it turns into something more. There was never any expectations record-wise for this column, it’s something I wanted to do so I was given the green light.

There was always a thought that as the sample size increased and we found a way to even out scheduling competition levels between conferences we could find a way to incorporate metrics into our college picks as well. But merely thoughts nothing more.

The thing about numerical analysis is it takes time not just to gather numbers, but to compile and test them through different variations. It also takes time to test everything and go through what’s working and what isn’t. In many ways, that’s part of the process we’re still going through now, though much has happened behind the curtains before we ever published anything abut this.

After our first week talking about using metrics for College football and explaining how the selected games we picked went 9-and-1, we offered you four picks for our Saturday Fun column last week. Those four picks all beat the spread. Sadly I still offered up five big game picks and only went 2-3 in those. That’s still a 6-and-3 week taking us (astonishingly considering how it all started) to 31-26-2 on the year.

So we’re going back to the well. We’re finding that differentials over 7 points are working out best and last week our adjusted conference YPP numbers plus our strength of schedule adjustments went 11-4 with such differentials. That also meant being limited to selecting from a pool of only 15 out of 48 possible games.

So this week every pick is encouraged by the numbers or some variation of them and fits within our 7 point differentials.

With that said here are our picks.

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Saturday Fun picks of the week

UTSA +20 at Middle Tennessee 

We’re going in on some Conference USA games here, as conference YPP has pointed us in that direction.

First off, we have this matchup with a 6-and-2 Middle Tennessee team as large favorites over .500 Texas-San Antonio. Middle Tennessee puts up lots of points, is ninth in our database per offensive YPP production, and have some power five scalps to their resume. With all that, it’s easy to see why the spread has been set so high. However, they haven’t blown anyone out this season while UTSA hasn’t suffered many big losses.

Just in their last game, the Blue Raiders won against Florida International by seven, a team that appears significantly weaker than UTSA. The Roadrunners are only +12.5 per our YPP numbers based off of their production within C-USA, we’ll take it.

Florida Atlantic +4 at Rice

Did someone say more Conference USA? This isn’t just any conference matchup this is a true gem for degenerate bettors or absolute mid-major diehards. We have here a game of two 1-and-7 teams going against each other – not to mention two teams who are the Owls.

Because of that, plus that fact that the game’s being played at Rice, and then add that Rice is the better-known program and -4 seems like a perfect line here.

YPP doesn’t agree, as conference YPP has Florida Atlantic -8.5 in our suggested spread. No matter how you split it the Owls are the team that the numbers like regardless off what variation we use. FAU has had many more close games and just appears to be more competitive. This is an interesting pick, but we’re sticking with the numbers. Give us the road dogs.

Maryland +31 at Michigan

This one can be explained as simple as this; we bet against Michigan last week when they were 24.5 point favorites to Michigan State, now they’re favored by 31 to a Maryland team that beat the Spartans easily, 28-17, just a few games ago. A perfect example of how perception drives these spreads.

Look Maryland isn’t great but they’re a more than respectable team, they’re 5-and-3 in a hard fought Big Ten this season. Their defense has been good particularly in the secondary where they’re a top 20 program nationally (per passing yards allowed).

Michigan is scary, without a doubt, particularly defensively where they’re the top unit by most metrics, including points allowed (11.6) and YPP. However their offensive production is a bit deceiving, they’re averaging 46.4 points per game, the third-best total in the FBS, but their conference YPP has them as the 24th best attack, a telling difference.

We’re gambling that difference shows on the field and Big Blue doesn’t cover so easily. Per YPP Michigan is only a -17 favorite.

Hawaii +21.5 at San Diego State

Hawaii has won for us before and has been much more competitive this season than in recent years. It appears that perception is still catching up. Last week we also went 2-0 in our Mountain West picks, so why not go at it again.

Hawaii is far from a safe bet to beat anyone but they’ve also become a tough out for just about anyone. Power five opponents aside, the Rainbow Warriors have fought tough and been in every game they’ve played this year.

Our metrics have the Aztecs still favored by more than a touchdown but not nearly by the huge 21.5 actual spread. Conference YPP has SDSU as -8 a full 13.5 points less than the actual spread.

SDSU has been steamrolling conference opponents making the suggested spread a bit surprising, but it’s also telling how Hawaii has played this year. Give us the Rainbow Warriors.

Teams Conf. YPP spread Actual spread Differential
Florida Atlantic -8.5 12.5
@Rice -4
UTSA 14.5
@Middle Tennessee -5.5 -20
Hawai’i 13.5
@San Diego State -8 -21.5
@Michigan -17 -31 14

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Big Game Hunting

LSU +7.5 vs. Alabama

Obviously, this is a tough pick to make. We’ve picked the Tide twice this year, first against Tennessee to cover a large spread (they did) and taking Texas A&M against them, and despite a 17 point spread, they proved us wrong.

So going against Nick Saban’s troop while only being favored by 7.5 isn’t favorable. But the Tigers new found offensive mojo, a different coaching staff, and Leonard Fournette returned in full force seem to have LSU back. They also have the defensive chops (fifth in the country allowing only 15 points per game) and athletes to keep up with Alabama.

Make no mistake this pick is purely suggested by the numbers, as conference YPP has LSU favored in this game by -1 and when we adjust for strength of schedule LSU jumps to -3.

At face value and with the way the Tide has rolled so far this year, this is a hard pick to make. But given these teams histories, the fact that LSU is one of the few teams that can even pretend to match Alabama in recruiting, how hard it is to play in Baton Rouge at night, then you add in the numbers, and it doesn’t seem so crazy. Look, I’m not saying LSU will win like our suggested spread does, but a cover why not.

Nebraska +17 at Ohio State

Is it really so hard to get people to place wagers on the tenth-ranked team in the country that the Buckeyes merit 17 points at home? I’m not so sure. Yes Nebraska hasn’t played “anyone” during their unbeaten streak and they lost as soon as they played a worthy adversary, but they still covered.

The Buckeyes, on the other hand, have struggled mightily offensively the last month as conference play has gotten into full swing. Because of that, I expect a Huskers defense that’s ranked 15th in the country, allowing 18.4 points per game, to keep the score down and make this a relatively easy cover.

Our numbers reflect this prediction as well. Based purely off of conference YPP OSU would be an 8.5 point favorite. Even when adjusting for strength of schedule our suggested spread has them at -13.

The logic is sound, give us the Huskers.

Florida -5.5 at Arkansas

This is a purely numerically based pick, though looking further it certainly seems like a smart one. What’s most intriguing as someone who is busy compiling all the data is that conference YPP prefers underdogs most of the time. So to see two talented teams that have been in and around the top 25 and seeing the favorite team on the road liked by the numbers we had to jump on it.

Our numbers love the Gators here, as do I because that defense is for real and we’re finding more and more that good defenses are more reliable than good offenses. By Conference YPP, Florida is a -18 per our suggested spread, and that number drops to only 16 when we adjust for the strength of schedule.

The Hogs have shown to have some weapons and ability on offense, but their defense hasn’t been up to snuff so far this year. Arkansas is also coming off of an absolute dismantling to Auburn, a team with another fine SEC ‘D’. It just seems like a nice matchup.

As promised here’s the chart with our differentials and suggested spreads based purely on conference YPP

Teams Conf. YPP spread Actual spread Differential
Nebraska 8
@Ohio State -9 -17
Alabama -7.5
@LSU -3 10.5
Florida -18 -5.5 12.5

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