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Week 1 BTBS Picks

It's that time of year again.  As with last year, I will post my against-the-spread picks here on Wednesday/Thursday.  The basis for these picks will be based on Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings (a combination of my S&P+ and Brian Fremeau's FEI).  Last year I used my own S&P+ ratings, but I'm moving to the F/+ for a couple of reasons: 1) F/+ is more predictive of full-season success, and 2) I've already done the work to set up the F/+ projections and didn't want to circle back and do the same thing for a similar measure.  F/+ is the way we're going this season.  As I said, it is more accurate in terms of predicting the season as a whole, but we have yet to see how it will do on a per-game basis.

This offseason, I had grand intentions of diving full-force into the numbers and trying my damnedest to figure out the perfect formula to be using against the spread.  I even solicited volunteers to help me with it.  Alas, I "tried my damnedest" on about 75 other projects as well, and this one fell by the wayside.  I've made a couple of tweaks, but this is primarily the same approach as I took last year.  If F/+ itself is no more accurate predicting single games than S&P+ was, then we will probably see the same trend we saw last year -- get off to a hot start while Vegas is figuring things out, then slowly fade.  I'll hope for the best, expect the worst.  Or if not the worst, then the mediocre...est.

I've got to say, Vegas is starting off quite conservatively this year.  Lots of "mid-major vs major" games have spreads much closer than I would have expected (Clemson -24 over North Texas, USC -21.5 over Hawaii, Mississippi State -21.5 over Memphis, to name three).  As a result, there are quite a few games here where the projection and spread are quite far off.  As the season progresses, I'm sure Vegas will go back to torturing me (I was getting really sick of projecting Team A to beat Team B by 9.6, then finding out the spread was Team A -9.5).

Alright, let's get rolling.

  • Games in bold involve Big 12 teams.
  • Games with "LOCK" next to the verdict are those where the spread and projection are more than 20 points apart ... suggesting the projections feel pretty safe about the pick.  Locks did not fare well last year ... at least no better than any other picks.  We'll see what happens this time around.
Date Time Game Projection Spread ATS Verdict
Thurs., 9/2 6:30pm Marshall at Ohio State tOSU by 42.3 tOSU -28.5 Ohio State (W)
Minnesota at Middle Tennessee Minny by 7.4 Minny -2.5 Minnesota (W)
Southern Miss at South Carolina S. Caro. by 20.4 S. Caro -13.5 S. Carolina (W)
7:00pm Florida Atlantic at UAB UAB by 10.1 UAB -15 (??) Fla. Atlantic (W)
Northern Illinois at Iowa State ISU by 8.3 ISU -5 Iowa State (W)
7:30pm Pittsburgh at Utah Pitt by 5.5 Utah -3 PITTSBURGH (T)
10:00pm USC at Hawaii USC by 28.7 USC -21.5 USC (L)
Fri., 9/3 7:00pm Arizona at Toledo Arizona by 22.2 Arizona -15.5 Arizona (W)
Sat., 9/4 11:00am Miami-OH at Florida Florida by 61.0 Florida -35 Florida (LOCK) (L)
W. Michigan at Michigan State State by 30.9 State -23 Mich. State (W)
11:21am UL-Lafayette at Georgia Georgia by 41.7 Georgia -28 Georgia (W)
11:30am Illinois vs MIzzou Mizzou by 9.0 Mizzou -11.5 Illinois (W)
1:00pm Colorado vs Colorado State CU by 10.1 CU -12 CSU (L)
2:30pm Purdue at Notre Dame N.D. by 8.5 N.D. -11 Purdue (T)
Kentucky at Louisville UK by 2.5 UK -3 Louisville (L)
UConn at Michigan Michigan by 4.9 Michigan -3 Michigan (W)
North Texas at Clemson Clemson by 44.2 Clemson -24 Clemson (LOCK) (W)
Texas at Rice Texas by 51.8 Texas -30.5 Texas (LOCK) (L)
UCLA at Kansas State UCLA by 4.9 UCLA +1.5 UCLA (L)
New Mexico at Oregon Oregon by 44.7 Oregon -34 Oregon (W)
5:00pm Syracuse at Akron 'Cuse by 12.6 'Cuse -8.5 Syracuse (W)
6:00pm Arkansas State at Auburn Auburn by 41.4 Auburn -31 Auburn (L)
W. Kentucky at Nebraska NU by 50.2 NU by 37.5 Nebraska (W)
Washington St. at Oklahoma St. OSU by 39.3 OSU -15.5 OSU (LOCK) (W)
Utah State at Oklahoma OU by 46.9 OU -34 Oklahoma (L)
Washington at BYU BYU by 15.9 BYU -3 BYU (W)
San Jose State at Alabama 'Bama by 62.9 'Bama -37.5 Alabama (LOCK) (W)
Memphis at Mississippi State MSU by 28.4 MSU -21.5 Mississippi St. (W)
Army at Eastern Michigan Army by 2.5 Army -9.5 EMU (W)
Bowling Green at Troy Troy by 9.0 Troy -14 BGSU (W)
Northwestern at Vanderbilt NW'ern by 4.2 NW'ern -5.5 Vandy (W)
Oregon State at TCU TCU by 19.6 TCU -13.5 TCU (L)
7:00pm LSU vs North Carolina LSU by 9.1 LSU -4 LSU (W)
9:00pm Cincinnati at Fresno State Cincy by 17.9 Cincy +3 CINCY (LOCK) (L)
10:00pm Wisconsin at UNLV Wiscy by 30.2 Wiscy -20.5 Wiscy (L)
Sun., 9/5 1:00pm Tulsa at East Carolina ECU by 8.2 ECU + 8.5 (??) ECU (W)
2:30pm SMU at Texas Tech Tech by 34.3 Tech -14 Tech (LOCK) (L)
Mon., 9/6 3:00pm Navy at Maryland Terps by 0.7 Terps +6.5 MARYLAND
7:00pm Boise State vs Virginia Tech VT by 10.4 VT +2 VIRGINIA TECH

UPDATE (9/5): Picks are 22-12-2 (65.7%) heading into Monday games.  My "Picks I Feel Safest About" went 2-3, while my "Picks I Feel Queasiest About" are 2-1-1.  Figures.  The "LOCKS" above are 2-3.  Non-locks have been dominant.

Yes, Mizzou by only 9.0.  Illinois fares better in the projections (they're projected 61st overall) than one would expect, though obviously it was hard for me to factor in the effect of a new coaching staff.  I could certainly see MU-Illinois playing out a lot like the 2003 MU-UI game, where MU was clearly the better team, but Illinois had the emotional edge and stuck around much longer than they should have.

Picks I Feel Safest About:

  1. East Carolina +8.5 Tulsa. I do not understand this line at all.  I checked it six times to make sure it wasn't ECU -8.5.
  2. Cincinnati +3 Fresno State.  I think Cincinnati has too much offensive firepower ... which is an amazing thing to say considering what they lost from last season. (VERDICT: L)
  3. Texas -30.5 Rice.  Rice should be quite a bit improved over last year ... and they'll still lose by 34, minimum. (VERDICT: L)
  4. Oklahoma State -15.5 Washington State.  Wazzu was one of the worst major conference teams ever last year, and while I love an underdog story, they're going to have to prove to me that they've improved.  Year #3 is usually a good one for a new coach (WSU's Paul Wulff is entering Year #3), but they're just starting from so far behind. (VERDICT: W)
  5. Florida -35 Miami-OH.  They're too good, they're too athletic, they're being slept on just a tad, and Miami was really bad last year.  Florida could win this one by 41 while sleepwalking.  (And I could say this exact same thing about 'Bama vs SJSU.) (VERDICT: L ... should have gone with 'Bama.)

Picks I Feel Queasiest About:

  1. Maryland +6.5 Navy.  As we learned last year, playing Navy is not like playing any other team.  Sometimes mediocre teams solve the Navy offense better than good teams.  Will Maryland?  Absolutely no clue.  And I would not touch this line with a ten-foot pole.
  2. Pittsburgh +3 Utah.  I actually really like Pitt, but a) this is a really long trip, and sometimes those don't go well, and b) liking Pitt just makes me nervous.  Call it The Wannstache Effect.  (Or, as fans of other schools may have once called it, The Pinkel Effect.) (VERDICT: T)
  3. South Carolina -13.5 Southern Miss.  I think the 'Cocks defense is outstanding, and they should by all means win this game, but the offense is just iffy enough to let Southern Miss hang around longer than they should. (VERDICT: W)
  4. Nebraska -37.5 Western Kentucky.  WKU doesn't have a prayer in this game, obviously, but with that offense, NU could mess around for a while and 'only' win something like 38-3, which is not enough to cover. (VERDICT: W)
  5. TCU -13.5 Oregon State.  I really, really like TCU. The problem is, I really like Oregon State too.  A two-thirds empty Jerry Dome will negate a bit of TCU's home-field advantage, and ... quite frankly, 13.5 is just a ton.  I think TCU will win, but by two touchdowns? (VERDICT: L)