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The College Football Report: Dregs Against The Spread

This week we search for opportunity and entertainment amidst the dregs of the college football world: The winless, the hapless, and the generally dispirited teams languishing in the basements of their respective conferences, hanging out with lowlifes like our perennial least favorites, the Kentucky Wildcats, who hurt us as children and continue to hurt us as adults. (Where have you gone, Joker Phillips? A lonely College Football Report turns its eyes to you.)

It turns out some bottom-dwellers have also posted remarkably poor records "against the spread" (ATS). This, to us, is interesting.

UTEP (1-5, 0-3 Conference USA, 1-5 ATS), idle this week
The Miners have been underdogs for four weeks straight and have failed to cover a single game. Why can't someone design an algorithm to predict such opportunities? We find this upsetting. Someone should design a gambling app that would alert users to trends in point spreads and Over/Under totals. How hard could it be?

Jimmy the Greek, the original human gambling algorithm, knew a formula for gambling success: "knowledge times energy times intuition." In his day, Jimmy the Greek picked up out-of-town newspapers at train stations and gathered as much data as possible to find an edge.

He rose to fame in gambling circles by betting against an undefeated Notre Dame in 1945 at the age of 23. The Greek put $21,500 on Great Lakes Naval Training Station, getting 17 points against the Irish. He knew a key piece of data about Great Lakes: the Bluejackets were led by Ohio high school coaching legend Paul Brown.

As a native of Steubenville, Ohio, the Greek knew of Brown's successes at Massillon Washington High School, located across the state near Canton. Under Brown's leadership, the Tigers won six state championships in nine years and reached an 80-8-2 overall record.

During his tenure, Brown introduced two major coaching innovations: signaling plays into the quarterback from the sidelines and distributing a detailed set of formations to his players, known today as . . . the playbook.

The 39-7 upset over Notre Dame proved to be Brown's final game in the college coaching ranks. The following year, he accepted a new position as head coach of a professional football team that eventually bore his name: The Cleveland Browns.

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Southern Miss (0-5, 0-1 Conference USA, 1-4 ATS) vs. East Carolina (4-2, 2-1 Conference USA)
Football prophet Phil Steele boldly predicted that Southern Miss would go from 0-12 last year to a bowl game this year.

The Golden Eagles were even the favorite in their opener against Texas State. They got knocked flat in that game, losing 22-15, and have remained prone ever since. Two weeks ago, they welcomed Ron Turner's Florida International University Golden Panthers to Hattiesburg as a 17-point favorite and managed to lose when FIU blocked their last-second field-goal attempt. It was the 17th consecutive loss for Southern Miss.

This week, the Golden Eagles visit East Carolina (4-2) and will be "getting" a healthy 22.5 points.

Maybe Steele should have consulted this guy first.

Our pick: East Carolina 38, Southern Miss 17

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Miami, Ohio (0-6, 0-2 MAC, 1-5 ATS), idle this week
Here is a team that has played to expectations: Preseason rankings put the RedHawks (that's capital R, capital H, RedHawks) as low as #119.

Maybe Miami should revert to its old Redskins name, so its mascot can be as offensive as the product on the field. But keep the cheerleader uniforms. Also, buy a leaf-blower.

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Ball State (6-1, 3-0 MAC) vs. Western Michigan (0-7, 0-3 MAC, 2-5 ATS)
We forget that Buffalo, the college football team, actually refers to SUNY-Buffalo. The Bulls, along with the SUNY-Albany Great Danes and SUNY-Stony Brook Seawolves, play in the FCS and periodically act as Directional Creampuffs against FBS teams.

(The SUNY website also lists Nassau Community College and Alfred State College as fellow FCS members in Division I. Can this be true? Can community colleges field NCAA teams? This requires more research.)

We bring up Buffalo because Western Michigan lost to Buffalo 33-0 last week as a 10-point underdog. We think the Broncos should petition the NCAA to play against Albany or Stony Brook next year. This week's match-up against the Ball State Cardinals (-19.5) should give SUNY a measuring stick. Could the Great Danes compete against the MAC? What about the Seawolves?

Based on the transitive property, if Western Michigan beats Ball State, who beat Virginia, who beat BYU, who beat Texas, who beat #12 Oklahoma last week, Buffalo may be among the top teams in the nation. But then the transitive property is, to use a technical term, a bunch of hooey.

Our pick: Ball State 41, Western Michigan 16

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Hawaii (0-6, 0-4 Mountain West, 4-2 ATS), idle this week
Teams like Hawaii drive recreational gamblers crazy. Looking at lines like +24 (at USC), +27 (vs. Oregon State), +17 (vs. Fresno State), most see an easy pick. The Warriors are terrible, right? Yes, they are bad, but they always manage to find a way to hang around; they scored 20 points in the fourth quarter against Fresno, eight in the fourth against USC, and went into halftime against Oregon State tied at 14. Maybe best to take the halftime line or, better yet, stay away from Hawaii altogether.

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Air Force (1-6, 0-5 Mountain West, 2-5 ATS), idle this week
The Falcons' season has been a no-fly zone thus far. (Hey, at least they're not under the radar.)

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Oregon State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) vs. California (1-5, 0-3 Pac-12, 0-5 ATS)
The Beavers sit tied with Oregon atop the Pac-12 North at 3-0, and QB Sean Mannion is, in the words of Ronnie Lott, hot.

Oregon State doesn't believe in a balanced offense: The Beavers rank #122 in rushing yards per game but #1 in passing at 433.

Cal follows the same approach, throwing for 371 yards per game (#5) but only rushing for 117 (#108). The problem for the Bears is that their gaudy numbers only translate to 25 points per game while the Beavers average 43, good for 12th in the nation.

Most outside the West Coast time zone won't catch the game (kickoff is 9:30 p.m. CST), which is too bad. With an Over/Under at 69, Vegas expects plenty of scoring.

Our pick: Oregon State 38, California 31

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Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC, 2-4 ATS), idle this week
At $100 per game, our Always Give The Points Against The Kentucky Wildcats strategy would have netted $180 thus far. We're not saying, we're just saying.

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Georgia State (0-6, 0-1 Sun Belt, 4-1 ATS) at Texas State (3-3, 0-2 Sun Belt)
Texas State makes a second appearance in this week's report! We doubt that will ever happen again. Oddly, should Georgia State pull off an upset (+17), the Panthers would be in the mix for the Sun Belt title. Well, that might be generous. Let's say Georgia State would be "in the middle of the pack," although the point is moot - as a team in "transition" to the FBS, the Panthers won't qualify for postseason play until 2014.

While we're on the subject, we'd like to share our favorite post-graduate mascot: Victor E. Panther, who graduated from his post as mascot for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers, only to be replaced by . . . Pounce. Pounce Panther.

Our pick: Texas State 42, Georgia State 13

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The College Football Report Sacred Chicken Seven-Year Plan
You know who hasn't graduated yet? The Chicken. Despite the booming market for ag degrees, the College Football Report's resident feathered forecaster can't be bothered. The poultry picks this week:

Northern Illinois (-16) vs. Central Michigan
Auburn (+14) vs. Texas A&M
Indiana vs. Michigan (-9.5)

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Mike Luce is our man on campus. He welcomes your comments.

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