Every so often, I receive an email from a prep football fan near my hometown. The details change, but the basic idea is always the same: North beat South by 7 points. South beat East by 14 points. East beat West by 10 points. Therefore, North should beat West by 31 points! Right?
Not exactly. There are too many variables in football for such simple punditry to work, even if applied merely to W-L results and not the box scores. But I don’t blame my friend. There’s something about a final score that feels permanent, as if the virtues, flaws and fortunes of the 2 teams have been set in stone by the gridiron gods. (Until next weekend, of course.)
Bookies are not immune to over-reacting. As Marshall prepares for a trip to visit Middle Tennessee on Friday night, sports books have posted a much-thinner point spread than I would have expected. The 5-1 Thundering Herd is less than a field-goal favorite over the Blue Raiders, who are 3-4 and recently trailed FAU, another .500-ish mid-major team, 24-6 at halftime before losing 38-20.
But look closer at the MTSU schedule, and the “why” becomes clear – the Blue Raiders beat Syracuse 30-23 in Week 2. Nobody thought much about it then. But because Syracuse upset the defending CFP champion Clemson Tigers last weekend, any school to have beaten the Orangemen has gotten a big boost to its resume.
Who: Marshall Thundering Herd at Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
When: Friday, October 20th, 7 PM EST
Where: Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, TN
Lines: Marshall (-3) at MTSU (+3) / O/U Total: (49)
Marshall has at least one extremely impressive win of its own in ’17 – a 38-21 road victory over AAC opponent Cincinnati. 6’6″ QB Chase Litton had his cleanest performance of the season, throwing for 4 touchdowns with 0 interceptions and handing-off to swift Keion Davis on the read-option.
Litton is not much of a running threat, however. The junior has finished with negative rushing yards in 3 out of 6 starts. If the RBs don’t move the sticks, and the pocket isn’t protected, Litton isn’t above making mistakes.
The Blue Raiders had a pretty good QB of their own in Brent Stockstill, but he is seriously injured and hasn’t played since the Syracuse win. His replacement, John Urzua, has ability but less poise, throwing for only 6 TDs next to 8 interceptions over 5 games.
The Thundering Herd defense can take advantage of a rickety offense. Marshall has not allowed a touchdown in 8 quarters, holding Charlotte to just over 200 yards of offense last weekend in a 14-3 win.
We’re liking the Herd to prevail over a team getting too much respect from odds-makers based on the Syracuse game. Stockstill was a hero that day, but will not play against Marshall this Friday night.
Pick the visitors to cover (-3) and consider a wager on the under. MTSU isn’t likely to go anywhere fast against a terrific mid-major defense.