Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

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Big Kat SportsFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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UNLV vs. MinnesotaFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
Take: UNLV +14FOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels will be out for a bit of revenge tonight when they travel to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers to open the college football season. These two teams met in Vegas to open the 2012 campaign and Minnesota escaped with a 30-27 Triple OT win, failing to cover the 8.5 point spread. The Rebels had chance after chance to win the game but they just couldn’t get over the hump against the Gophers. We feel that a more experienced Rebel team will show up tonight and give the Big 10 squad all they can handle. This is a do or die year for UNLV HC Bobby Hauck and anything less than a 6-6 record and a bowl game will probably cost him his job. The Rebels return most of their starters for 2013 including QB Nick Sherry and RB Tim Cornett, who is a top back in the MWC. He is 4th on the list of active players with 100 yd rushing games with 11 and we should see a heavy dose of him tonight. Two TD’s seems too much to lay on a Minnesota team that scored 14 or fewer points in 5 of 7 games that 2013 QB Philip Nelson started in 2012. UNLV hasn’t won a road game since 2009 (22 straight losses) and we’re not crazy enough to say they can win tonight but staying within 14 points of a pretty weak Big10 team doesn’t seem like too big of a task here. It’s yet to be seen if the buzz here in Vegas for this UNLV team is for real but playing a close game against a BCS school tonight will go a long way in silencing some of the local critics. Look for a spirited revenge filled effort from the kids from Vegas tonight, keeping the game well within the 14 point spread.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

Mike Lineback

Minnesota Twins 1st Half +0.5 -125

KC start Bruce Chen is normally streaky good or bad, and right now he is struggling, giving up 13 runs in his last 9 innings, spanning two starts - both losses. Meanwhile, Twins starter Samuel Deduno, got back on track his last start versus Cleveland, giving up only 1 run, 3 hits in 6 innings of work. Plus, Deduno has fared well vs. the Royals, winning 3 of 4 starts from the visitors, including two starts this season. He has allowed only 2 runs in his three Royals wins, spanning 14.1 innings. Prefer to play F5-innings, given this starting matchup & KC's superior edge in the bullpen.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

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UNLV +14 over MINNESOTAFREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Bobby Hauck is 6-32 at UNLV but for those looking to fade the Rebels, we say don't let the smooth taste fool you. This is the best UNLV squad since John Robinson's 2000 edition that whipped Arkansas in the Vegas Bowl. Bowl contention and a finish in the upper half of the division standings are eminently reachable goals. In fact, you may want to play the Rebels over 4 regular season wins (+100) because frankly that is a grossly underpriced win total. The Rebels are dangerous. They return more starters than any program in the Mountain West, a total of nine such performers on both sides of the ball and they have a QB, Nick Sherry, that was well on his way to breaking some MWC records before going down with an injury. We'll back the Rebels with more enthusiasm at home this year, but two touchdowns from a ball-control Gophers team without much explosiveness is enough to induce a nibble right out of the gate.
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Minnesota’s offense can’t be trusted spotting points like this. The Gophers enter the season with the second youngest and most inexperienced quarterback group in the country. Philip Nelson is the only one with starting experience and he’s no Johnny Manziel. Nelson completed a pedestrian 49% percent of his pass attempts and had just as many TD’s as he did picks. That’s not a ringing endorsement. The Gophers will once again attempt to control the clock by running right, running left and running up the middle. The Rebels might just be the most undervalued squad in the country and taking back 14 points with the far superior QB is almost always worth a bet. That applies here. Upset possibility.
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North Carolina +12 over SOUTH CAROLINASERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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We’re always on the lookout for value and overpriced teams, especially in the early going when people have to rely on what they read. South Carolina comes in as one of the early favorites to reach a BCS Bowl. You’re going to read that Steve Spurrier is 22-1 in Week 1 over his career and how the Gamecocks ferocious defense is going to dominate games. That may be true but 12 points is a lot of points to be spotting a Tar Heels offense that is very capable of lighting it up. We also have the ranked team versus unranked angle here and that means that when you wager on a ranked team with so much hype, you are going to pay a premium to do so and that’s something that can be rarely endorsed. 
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The Tar Heels return QB Bryn Renner and all he did as a junior was help UNC score an average of 40 points a game. Renner is a year older, he’s as comfortable back there as any QB in the nation and he seldom backs a bad decision. In fact, Renner threw just seven picks all of last season while hitting for 28 passing TD’s. The knock on the Tar Heels was a defense that did not match the offense but they figure to be better this season with seven starters returning.
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South Carolina is the more balanced team here, at least that’s what the experts say but there are concerns. The hype surrounding its defense last season was warranted and it all starts with Jadeveon Clowney, who had the best single-season in school history last year. Still, the unit lost several players this year and return just four starters from a year ago. That’s significant, as defenses thrive as a group and this group has plenty of inexperience. The Gamecocks offense is also very efficient with QB Connor Shaw. Shaw is entering his senior season and is the program's all-time leader in completion percentage at 668. However, opposing defenses had to deal with Marcus Lattimore a year ago, arguably the nation’s best back but he’s now departed and that’s a big void to fill. The Gamecocks still have plenty of talent but there is no denying that UNC has as many offensive weapons as the Gamecocks, an outstanding QB and more returning starters on defense. That’s more than enough for us to step in on the underdog here taking back a juicy 12 points. If you are on board for this one, wait until later in the day because it’s quite possible we will be getting 13 points by game time. We will update this one later on with the price we’re taking back but we are definitely on the pooch here.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

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L.A. Angels/TAMPA BAY Over 8½FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Jason Vargas missed almost two months of action after undergoing surgery on a blood clot. He has made three starts since his return and was whacked in the first two back against the Yanks and Astros, not exactly the cream of the crop. Vargas was solid in his last start but that was at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field in Seattle at a time the Mariners were struggling at the plate. Vargas has made no noticeable skills gains. He's been the same mediocre pitcher four years running and he now faces a Rays’ squad that his second in the majors with a .279 team batting average against southpaws. In eight road starts, Vargas is 2-4 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 47.1 IP and his chances for success here are slim.
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The fact that Jake Odorizzi is a -152 favorite here strongly suggests that the oddsmakers expect the Rays to score some runs because Odorizzi is surely going to give up something. Odorizzi has made four appearances this season with three of those coming as a starter. He’s allowed 22 hits and 12 runs in 18 innings. He’s also a fly-ball pitcher and that has resulted in three balls leaving the yard and plenty more coming damn close. Odorizzi has a BAA of .297, a WHIP of 1.44 and while he has upside to be sure, he’s not major-league ready yet. He is often guilty of overthrowing and elevating his heater and has been completely inefficient with gunning for Ks as opposed to pitching to contact. He was called up in May to fill-in for David Price and he’s doing the same here, as Price’s start has been pushed back a day. We’re not asking for anything crooked here. Both these offenses are more than capable of putting up some runs while both these pitchers have at least a 50% chance each of blowing up.
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ATLANTA -1½ +156 over ClevelandFFREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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The Indians offense has checked out a month early. Cleveland has scored twice so far in this series and over their past 15 games they are hitting a putrid .214. Over that aforementioned 15-game stretch, Cleveland has faced a bevy of very mediocre pitchers that include, Mike Pelfrey, Paul Maholm, A.J. Griffin, Liam Hendricks, Nathan Eovaldi and Sam Deduno to name a few. Struggling to hit the ball, the Tribe will now face a pitcher in Atlanta that they have a combined nine AB’s against in their careers. Kris Medlen is shaping himself up for another strong finish. His post-All-Star break skills have been elite with eight K’s per nine innings and just 1.4 walks per 9 IP. Since the break, Medlen also has a 51% groundball rate and everything is his skill set is trending in the right direction. Over his last five starts, covering 29 frames, Medlen has walked just five batters while striking out 24. He has an xERA of 2.96 since the break with a miniscule 25% fly-ball rate.
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Ubaldo Jimenez is one of the rare starters whose skills are much better against opposite-sided batters. Check out his stats and skills vs. LH bats: 3.56 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 8.8/3.4 K/BB per 9 IP, 40% groundball rate. His control falls apart against righties: 4.58 ERA, 1.73 WHIP and seven walks per nine innings. Atlanta is loaded with right-handed batters and that spells trouble for Jimenez. Jimenez is coming off a 10 K performance against the Twins but trust us when we tell you it was not a thing of beauty. He escaped many jams that day and need 114 pitches to get through six innings. He was constantly behind in the count. Those 114 pitches he threw tied a season high. The last time Jimenez threw 114 pitches, he was whacked for eight hits five innings in his subsequent start while walking three. Cleveland has dropped three of Jimenez’s last four games by scores of 10-0 to Miami, 7-2 to the Angels and 5-1 to the Twinkies. Why should we believe this one to be any different?

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

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Utah State vs. UtahFREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
Play:Utah State +3FOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Utah State’s Keeton is getting lost in that shuffle a little bit, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to be. Last year in his first full year as a starter he completed nearly 68% of his passes for almost 3,400 yards with 27 touchdowns and he ran for eight touchdowns in his last seven games. This could be a real coming-out party for Keeton against an imperfect Utah squad, and I’m excited to see what he can do. Five offensive linemen are also back for them. Utah and their defense has to rebuild its front four without DT Star Lotulelei, and it will take time. Utah is young and does not have the talent to stay with Utah State and the points are a bonus here Thursday night.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

Craig Davis

My free play winner for Thursday is the Dallas Cowboys at home over the Houston Texans.

Obviously both teams would like to end the pre-season on a positive note, but it's going to mean more to the Cowboys who lost a couple of ugly games to Oakland and Arizona.

Houston displayed all the offense they could possibly have wanted last week in their 31-23 home loss to the Saints (500 yards of total offense... 366 through the air).

All of that is going to go away tonight as the Texans want nothing to do with playing their starters in this game. There's nothing left to prove and they are trying to avoid injury at all costs because they don't have as much quality depth as many teams in the NFL.

Dallas, on the other hand, still has a few possible jobs open and you might see a few more potential starters in the lineup tonight... at least in first quarter.

The Boys looked as good as they've looked all pre-season last week in their 24-18 win over the Bengals. That was a big win against a team that many are picking to contend in the AFC this year.

These two teams have split six preseason meetings so far, and I see Dallas breaking that deadlock tonight with a 21-17 win.

3♦ DALLAS

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

Jeff Benton

Your Thursday freebie on the underdog Vikings at home against the Titans.

I know that both teams are going to take no chances getting any of their projected starters injured, but my feeling is that Tennessee's win against the Atlanta Falcons last week at home in the preseason should satisfy both the coaching staff and the fan base.

The same cannot be said for the Vikings, as they come into this preseason finale having lost all 3 of their "practice" games. The Vikes may well lose again tonight, but I think it is important for Minnesota to at least lose close if they do lose.

I am taking the points here, as the Vikings show their fans they can be hopeful before next week's season opener at Detroit.

Grab the underdog Vikings in this meaningless preseason finale.

2♦ MINNESOTA

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

Brad Wilton

Comp play winner for Thursday comes in baseball on the Orioles and the Red Sox to hold Under the total in their series finale.

Pitching looks to be the key here, as both Chris Tillman and Jon Lester should have no trouble keeping the sticks quiet at Fenway Park tonight.

Tillman has allowed 2 runs or less to cross in 5 of his last 7 starts, and the Under stands at 4-2-1 the last 7 times he has trotted to the hill.

Lester is an even stingier 6-1-1 Under the total the last 8 starts that he has made, and the southpaw has allowed 2 runs or less in 4 straight and 6 of his last 7.

The Under in the series is 7-2-1 the last 10 times these A.L. East rivals have played, and the Under also stands at 7-3 the last 10 times the teams have played in Boston.

Last night the teams only combined for 7 total runs, and a combined total of 7 tonight would be an awful lot considering the way these two hurlers have been working.

Baltimore-Boston Under the total here on Thursday.

4♦ BALTIMORE-BOSTON UNDER

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

Brett Atkins

My free winner for tonight is on the Houston Astros plus the money at home against the visiting Seattle Mariners, who have lost four straight and will continue to struggle. This is not a series the Astros will enjoy, given how hot and humid it is in Texas still.

I don't care much about the Astros sportin the worst record in the major leagues, cause this is baseball and at this point in the season, it's more about momentum and who is playing really good or very bad. There's a bit of momentum and motivation for the Astros (44-88), who need to go 19-11 down the stretch to avoid their third consecutive 100-loss season.

The Mariners just completed a winless six-game homestand and that's what matters most, since they now hit the road with a negative attitude. I don't know how they could think positively after seeing their ace - Felix Hernandez - get shelled for nine runs (eight earned) and 11 hits in three-plus innings of a 12-4 loss to the Texas Rangers yesterday.

Seattle arrives in H-town on losing streaks of 1-7 as a favorite and 0-6 overall. Houston, meanwhile, has opened four of its last five series with a victory. Take the Astros in this one, as the home-dog price is the value.

3♦ HOUSTON ASTROS

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

Chris Jordan

My free winner is on the Washington Nationals over the Miami Marlins, and I want you playing this one on the Run Line.

And make note, while I know all Run Line plays automatically list pitchers with the starters who are scheduled to go at the time of the wager, I am not concerned with who goes for either team tonight and want you playing this game on the Run Line regardless. That being said, IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to be sure you have action even if one of the pitchers scheduled to start is scratched, and re-wager the game if that takes place.

Why doesn't it matter who is throwing for the Nats? Because thanks to Denard Span, Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper, the offense has come around nicely, and there are some in the nation's capital who are clinging to Nationals' faint playoff hopes.

Span is riding an 11-game hitting streak while Harper is enjoying a hitting streak of 10 games. Stanton, meanwhile, has hit safely in four straight and 13 of 14 contests.

Washington has won eight of the 11 meetings between the division rivals, while the Marlins check into Nationals Park on losing streaks of 1-4 in intradivision play, 5-16 as an underdog and 1-7 overall. The Nationals are in on additional win streaks of 7-0 when laying chalk, 6-2 against division foes and 7-1 overall.

Lay the run line tonight with the Nationals.

3♦ WASHINGTON -1.5

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

Scott Delaney

My free winner for tonight is on the Atlanta Braves against the Cleveland Indians in Interleague play.

Give the Braves at least four runs, and they're likely going to end up in the winner's circle. They're on a remarkable 61-10 run when scoring four or more runs. And even though I'm not listing pitchers in this game, I think there is a good chance Atlanta will plate a handful tonight since the Tribe is handing the ball to Ubaldo Jimenez, who is 1-3 in August despite a 2.86 ERA.

Atlanta (80-52), which raced out to the biggest division lead in baseball last month and then cooled off while battling injuries, is poised to make another run and lock up the National League East. With the best record in baseball and a 13-game lead over the Washington Nationals, I like where the Braves are at right now.

The Indians roll into this one mired in a brutal 1-8 slide against winning teams, while the Braves check in on win streaks of 6-1 when hosting Interleague games, 38-13 at Turner Field, 7-3 against American League Central foes and 23-7 overall.

Lay the chalk with the Braves.

2♦ ATLANTA

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

Rocketman

Baltimore Ravens vs. St. Louis Rams
Play: St. Louis Rams -6

The Baltimore Ravens travel to St Louis to take on the Rams on Thursday night. St Louis is 0-3 SU so far in the preseason and I think they will want a win here tonight heading into the regular season. St Louis is 6-1 ATS last 3 years when playing on 6 days or less rest. St Louis is 3-0 SU and ATS overall in this series since 1993. St Louis is 6-0 ATS last 6 years in Game Four. St Louis is 13-2 SU and ATS last 15 games against AFC opponents in preseason action. I'm looking for St Louis to win this one easily tonight. We'll recommend a small play on St Louis!

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

Tony Stoffo

Rutgers vs. Fresno State    
Play: Rutgers +11

We have our first reverse money move of the season on this Rutgers/Fresno State match-up for tonight- as the public is all on the favorite Bulldogs with 63% of all bets placed - yet the odds makers have lowered this opening line - meaning their still looking for more Fresno State money - This happens when the smart money comes in heavy on the dog, and the sport books to to try and even their books here. Rutgers getting the points here the Sharp Money release here this evening.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Thursday, August, 29

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SOUTH CAROLINA (-10½) 33 North Carolina 23VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Whether North Carolina can keep this game close, or win it, depends on how much time UNC star quarterback Bryn Renner has to throw and how accurately he can get the ball to his receivers, who should be covered pretty well by a good South Carolina secondary. Renner is one of the better quarterbacks in the nation and he should improve a bit on this good 2012 season in which he averaged 7.5 yards per pass play against FBS teams that would combine to allow 6.4 yppp to an average quarterback. South Carolina has a great pass defense and defends the run really well too but Renner is capable of performing well enough to keep this game relatively close if North Carolina’s improved defense does a reasonable job of slowing down what should be a very good Gamecocks’ attack. South Carolina returns both of their quarterbacks, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson and four-fifths of last year’s starting offensive line returns and should be better in pass protection than they were a year ago (38 sacks allowed). The South Carolina attack was only 0.4 yards per play better than average last season (5.8 yppl against teams that would combine to allow 5.4 yppl to an average team) but I expect that unit to be better this season. The UNC defense was just average last season (5.5 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl against an average team) but should be a little better this season. However, they don’t figure to be as good as the South Carolina offense and my ratings call for a 10 point win by the Gamecocks.
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Tulsa (+4) 25 BOWLING GREEN 24FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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The Hurricane managed to survive without quarterback GJ Kinne, who departed from Tulsa after the 2011 season as their #2 all-time passer. The pass attack actually went from 0.7 yards per pass play better than average in Kinne’s senior season to 0.5 yppp worse than average with Nebraska transfer Cody Green at quarterback. Green was nothing special at Nebraska and his mediocrity carried over to last season, when he completed just 54.4% of his passes and averaged 5.9 yppp against a schedule of teams that would combine to allow 6.4 yppp to an average quarterback. Green did do a good job of handing the ball off to stud running backs Trey Watts (1108 yards at 6.0 ypr), Ja’Terian Douglas (936 yards at 6.8 ypr), and short yardage bruiser Alex Singleton (800 yards), who only averaged 4.0 ypr but scored 24 touchdowns and converted on a ton of short yardage 3rd down and 4th down situations. Green is back to hand the ball off to Watts and Douglas, but losing Singleton will likely hurt Tulsa’s ability to maintain drives (the Hurricane ran 10.4 more plays per game than their opponents in part because of their 21 of 37 conversion rate on 4th downs). Overall the Tulsa offense was a bit below average from a yards per play perspective (5.5 yards per play against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average team) and I expect similar numbers this season but with a less impressive play differential.
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Defensively is where the questions lie for Tulsa, who returns just 3 starters from last year’s stout group of defenders. It’s actually just 2 returning starters on defense for at least this game, as 2nd team All-CUSA FS Marco Nelson is currently academically ineligible to play. The Hurricane D gave yielded just 4.9 yppl (to teams that would average 5.4 yppl against an average stop unit) and were 0.4 yppl better than average defensively in 2011 with the same core group of players. That core group is gone now and I expect the Hurricane to regress towards the mean defensively this season unless defensive coordinator Brent Guy has some unknown stars ready to step up and fill big shoes. Tulsa is still a good team by Conference USA standards but the Hurricane appear to be barely better than average on a national scale this year.
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While Tulsa’s inexperienced defense will keep them from being as good as they’ve been the last few years they still appear to be a bit better than a rising Bowling Green program that returns 16 starters from last year’s 8-5 team. The Falcons were led by a very stingy defense that allowed just 16.8 points per game and 4.9 yppl in 12 games against FBS teams that would combine to average 5.3 yppl against an average defense. That unit returns 8 starters but they aren’t likely to be as good without 1st Team All-American DT Chris Jones, who recorded 12.5 sacks (an incredible number for a defensive tackle) and 19 total tackles for loss. The Falcons also have two fewer returning starters than last year’s unit that had 10 returnies. I actually see the run defense being at least as good but the pass defense will go from very good (0.7 yards per pass play better than average) to about average without Jones harassing quarterbacks up the middle. Bowling Green should still be solid defensively, especially by MAC standards but they should be about average on a national scale, which puts them on par with Tulsa’s offense.
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Despite what should be a less dominating defense the Falcons should still be an improved team thanks to an offense led by senior quarterback Matt Schilz, who I expect to rebound from a bad season (just 55% completions) after a pretty good sophomore season in 2011 (60% completions). The Bowling Green pass attack was still below average even in Schilz’ best season in 2011 (0.2 yards per pass play worse than average) but it should be better than last year’s 0.9 yppp worse than average rating. The rushing attack has been worse than average for 8 straight years and likely won’t be better than last year’s 0.5 yards per rushing play below average rating even if new young backs Travis Greene and Andre Givens make up for the loss of last year’s leading rusher Anthon Samuel, who left the team in the off season rather than coming back for his junior season after running for 998 yards at a solid 4.9 ypr as a soph. Bowling Green’s offense was 0.6 yards per play worse than average last season but I expect the Falcons’ attack to be closer to average in 2013 (I rate them at 0.3 yppl worse than average).
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Overall I have Tulsa rated as a slightly better team and favor the Falcons by just 2½ points in this game despite having home field advantage. I’ll call for the minor upset on the basis of a 70-37-2 ATS game 1 situation that Tulsa applies to.

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