With the college football regular season nearing its end, there’s a lot riding on the results of the final few weeks — including the Heisman race and several conference championships. The betting market is very efficient now that there are so many data points on every team, but there is still plenty of early value to be found for this slate.
I’ll go over some of my model’s biggest edges here, but be sure to also check out PFF Greenline to unearth additional value.
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Projection: SMU +8.1
This matchup will feature a major strength-on-strength battle, with SMU’s passing game taking on a fierce Cincinnati secondary. The Mustangs' Tanner Mordecai ranks 10th in the nation in PFF passing grade and has orchestrated a passing attack that ranks 17th in expected points added (EPA) per throw. He’s not doing it alone by any means, though, as the receiving corps has graded out as the 12th-best unit in the country, while the pass-blocking group ranks 23rd.
Four different SMU pass-catchers have at least 400 yards on the season, and the starting receiving trio of Danny Gray, Rashee Rice and Reggie Roberson represent three of the seven highest-graded receivers in the AAC. It’s unclear whether Gray will play in this contest after getting banged up last week, but regardless, this is a loaded group. Cincinnati enters this contest ranked fourth in coverage grade, but SMU's receivers are easily better than any corps the Bearcats have seen this year.
And don’t forget about SMU's ground game. Running back Ulysses Bentley IV is finally healthy and forms an impressive backfield duo with Tre Siggers. Among running backs with at least 50 carries, Bentley ranks in the top five in rushing grade and yards after contact per attempt, and both running backs are coming off very productive days last week against UCF.
SMU’s defense hasn’t been great this season, but two areas where it’s excelled are in run defense and the pass rush. Individually, DeVere Levelston, Turner Coxe and Gary Wiley rank first, second and tied for third, respectively, in sacks among American Athletic Conference defenders. They should be able to tee off on a Cincinnati pass-blocking unit that has graded out at just 93rd in the FBS.
Projection: Air Force -2.5
Run defense is a key factor in any matchup featuring a triple-option offense, and Nevada’s is a red flag, ranking 118th in rushing success rate allowed and 96th in run-defense grade. Meanwhile, Air Force enters this contest ranked 10th in run-blocking grade and 24th in EPA per carry. The primary ball carrier has been fullback Brad Roberts, who has racked up the 12th-most rushing yards in the country.