Rice @ Pitt (-20.5)
So here’s the thing. Rice isn’t winless, which is nice, but in reality, all we know from Rice being 1-3 is just how bad UTEP is this season. The Owls – per Football Study Hall – turned in an offensive performance in the 76th percentile against UTEP (their offense performed better than 76% of offenses that took the field that week) and hasn’t been higher than the 10th percentile otherwise. You expect that from a team like Rice when they are playing a game in Australia against Stanford, or on the road against Houston. But against FIU? Really? Last week showed that Rice isn’t a team who will beat the bad teams, struggle against the good, and wash out even. They’re a team that will struggle to stay out of the cellar unless they find something resembling an offense.
UTEP @ Army (-23.5)
Oh, hey there UTEP.
So here’s the sad part. Last season Army absolutely demolished UTEP 66-14, and this season Army probably isn’t quite as good, but UTEP definitely is worse. This is a generous line for a Miner squad that fired their offensive coordinator a week ago and are sticking with Ryan Metz at quarterback but have played three different guys already. This should be just like last year; a team that sucks at stopping the run, especially the triple option, will get blasted by a team that runs the triple option like clockwork in their sleep.
Sean Kugler is probably sticking around for a bit. He is definitely not the coach to lead this team anymore, as he looks overmatched on a regular basis (no offense to Rice but when you even look overmatched against them, what have you got left?). Army has been up and down this season, but this is the week they cure what ails them and beat UTEP at least as badly as they did last year.
Charlotte @ FIU (-11)
If you had told me in the preseason that FIU would be a two-touchdown favorite against Charlotte this season, I would have assumed it was because Butch’s boys looked extremely good (but were still, y’know, FIU) while Charlotte had looked atrocious. Charlotte has, indeed, been a miserable wreck of a team, but FIU is still finding their footing and leaning hard on their defense. The Golden Panther defense was no match for Central Florida, but they acquitted themselves very well against Alcorn State and Rice by allowing only 540 yards and 17 points. And yet, the offense struggled so mightily they only won those games by a touchdown each.
Speaking of touchdowns, FIU has only scored five touchdowns and four field goals in 34 offensive drives this season, yet they’re the better offense in this game. The 49ers have managed to rack up six touchdowns and one field goal in 48 offensive drives, most of which came against FCS North Carolina A&T after they got behind by three scores
MTSU @ FAU (-3)
On paper, MTSU is probably just barely the better team, even without Brent Stockstill and Richie James for another week (probably). This line is narrow for a reason – we still have a lot of questions about both of these teams. The Owls still don’t have a definitive solution at quarterback. They’re the favorite across the board in this game, but I question that considering their loss last week to a Buffalo team they had no business losing to. The one clear benefit for FAU here is that they’ve struggled to stop the run, which MTSU doesn’t do particularly well. Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, their stats skew the same direction on defense, and FAU actually runs the ball rather well.
If Stockstill and James sit this one out FAU probably wins a close one, but I’m not sure the result of this one is really predictive of the coming weeks for either team.
South Alabama @ Louisiana Tech (-12.5)
This one could get ugly. The Bulldogs hung tough against both Western Kentucky and South Carolina, and came much closer to beating the Gamecocks than anyone expected. The problem for South Alabama is that while Louisiana Tech hasn’t looked amazing their last two games, both of those teams are much better than the Jaguars.
While it’s certainly true that Louisiana Tech isn’t nearly as good on offense as the Ole Miss and Oklahoma State squads that dragged USA to start the season, it’s also true that the Bulldogs are much more potent than the Idaho team that Joey Jones and his boys withered against last week. And that’s just it – South Alamaba’s offense has had its moments, but their defense has let them down repeatedly. They’ve allowed opponents to convert third downs at a 47% clip, and Idaho was the first team to not successfully convert on third down against the Jags.
There’s not a lot you can do when your offense can’t stay on the field (20% third-down conversion) and your defense can’t get off it.
UNT @ Southern Miss (-7.5)
Sure the line here suggests a clear favorite, bull I’ll ask that you hear this one out for a minute. Southern Miss is clearly the better team on paper, but don’t sleep on the Mean Green. UNT is a top-30 rushing offense in every category except power runs, and their passing game is no slouch. The only area where the offense truly struggles is in preventing sacks on pure passing downs, and even then they’re still better at it than more than a third of FBS. They’ve struggled to defend the pass in large part due to issues with getting to the quarterback (even when they blitz) and getting beat over the top as a result.
Southern Miss has a very interesting profile. Their offense has had a good bit of success in producing big plays, but has been rather lackluster otherwise. The defense has had the same problem, getting beat deep numerous times. The Golden Eagles have racked up 14 plays of 20+ yards in their first three games, but they’ve also given up nine in that same span.
THe ULM Warhawks gave North Texas the blueprint to a victory last weekend; run the ball early and often, hit a few big plays, and do your best to avoid them on defense. The Mean Green are much more capable of that last item than the Warhawks were, so don’t be surprised if they pull off a mini-upset here. I’d not hesitate to put money on them to cover.
Marshall @ Cincinnati (-3.5)
Go read the AAC preview, you bum.