Thursday, December 22, 2016

Colorado State? Quarterback Yards? Win?

Colorado State is favored by 15 points at this moment, so let's try to skew our bets toward that side to start.

Nick Stevens Passing Yards

Since Stevens took over as the full-time quarterback halfway through the season, he's averaged 235.7 passing yards per game. His lowest yardage total was against New Mexico two weeks ago, where he threw for just 164 yards.

I'm going to make an executive decision here and eliminate the New Mexico game. It's really difficult for me to consider that his "bad" game because he completed 9/10 passed for 164 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 turnovers. CSU was just up the whole game so they ran the ball, to the point where they had three separate guys run for 100+ yards (and four separate guys ran for touchdowns, including Stevens twice). If anything, that New Mexico game worries me because CSU could dominate Idaho and Stevens could only attempt a dozen passes.

Last week's game against San Diego State was similar. He attempted just 15 passes, and completed 10 of them for 210 yards and 4 touchdowns. That's not a bad game by any interpretation, but in terms of yardage it would probably fall under his total for a betting prop.

The remaining four games saw him total the following passing yardage numbers:

  • 189 yards against Boise State
  • 237 yards against UNLV, 
  • 240 yards against Fresno State 
  • 374 yards against Air Force
Since we're just looking at passing yards, here are how those teams rank in pass defense for the season (there are 128 teams):
  • Boise State: 28th in yards per game (199.5), 7th in yards per attempt (6.0)
  • UNLV: 90th in yards per game (252.2), 98th in yards per attempt (7.9)
  • Fresno State: 8th in yards per game (174.5), 95th in yards per attempt (7.8)
  • Air Force: 99th in yards per game (250.5), 119th in yards per attempt (8.5)
I don't know how Fresno State allows so few yards per game when they allow so many yards per attempt, but it's fair to say that, in games where he three the ball 20+ times, Stevens feasted on weaker pass defenses and struggled somewhat against the only really decent pass defense he faced. 

Idaho ranks 114th in yards per game against (276.8) and 109th in yards per pass attempt against (8.1). That's certainly more on the "feast" side, and so our only worry is CSU blowing out Idaho from the start and running the ball three times as much as they throw it. 

I mean it's definitely a worry, because the five most likely outcomes (and eight of the ten at 20/1 or narrower) involve CSU winning. Is this going to end up like it did against New Mexico and San Diego State for Stevens?

Well, let's find out. Here's summaries of his three good games:
  • UNLV: CSU dominated the first half 35-0, and Stevens threw just two touchdown passes for the game. But the Rams moved the ball via the air (28 attempts) and the ground (50 attempts) and UNLV really didn't come to life until the game was out of hand in the second half. To be honest, this game is a borderline mirror image of the low-yardage games against UNM and SDSU. UNLV is just really goddamn bad. 
  • Fresno State: Almost exactly the same as the UNLV game, in that the Rams dominated the whole thing and ran the ball twice as much as they threw it (47-26 attempts). 
  • Air Force: This was one of two losses in Stevens' time as starting quarterback this season. The other came against Boise State. Those two teams are polar opposites in terms of pass defense, and even though it was a loss it most certainly would have gone over the number for Stevens' passing yards. He benefited from the game being close and cashed in for 374 (!!) passing yards. 
Of the six games in Stevens' rearview mirror this season, it seems like this game is going to most closely mirror four of them. Those games would be the comfortable victories against UNLV, Fresno State, New Mexico, and San Diego State. In those four games, he threw for 237, 240, 164, and 210 yards. It's not a question of whether Stevens and the Rams offense have the ability to beat opponents through the air - as evidenced by their huge output against The Troops - but they normally win so comfortably that they end up running the ball two-thirds of the time. 

I would expect Colorado State to win tonight by somewhere close to the two-touchdown spread, and based on Idaho's poor pass defense this season I would expect him to finish toward the high end of that 164-210 scale from the other four games this year. 

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