Bob Stoll of Dr. Bob Sports is one of the most seasoned, successful sports handicappers around. He was one of the first to use advanced analytics in sports handicapping after studying statistics and finance at U.C. Berkeley. You can find his historical college football performance here, and you can subscribe to his service here. He has agreed to share some of his lengthy, from-every-angle game previews here.
Strong Opinion – East Carolina (+3) 28 SOUTH CAROLINA 26
South Carolina fans are probably missing Steve Spurrier after watching the Gamecocks’ offense the last two weeks. The end of Spurrier’s tenure in Columbia wasn’t pretty but at least his last two teams could play some offense despite pretty mediocre talent on that side of the ball. Now the genius of Spurrier’s offensive mind is coming to the forefront after two horrible offensive performances under new head coach Will Muschamp. What? Bad offense on a Will Muschamp team?
Muschamp’s Florida teams were horrible offensively by SEC standards, averaging a rating of 0.2 yards per play worse than average on a national scale. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was also the OC for Muschamp in his final season at Florida (2014), in which the Gators were 0.3 yppl worse than average. Roper was the OC at Duke for 6 years (’08-’13) and he had just one better than average offense in those 6 seasons. Do you see a pattern?
I rated South Carolina’s offense as average on a national scale heading into this season but it’s obvious that Roper still can’t coach, as the Gamecocks have averaged just 4.3 yppl in road games against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State – teams that would combine to allow 5.0 yppl at home to an average offensive team. Quarterback Perry Orth was 1.1 yards per pass play better than average in Spurrier’s system last season (6.6 yppp against teams that would allow 5.5 yppp to an average team) but he’s averaged only 5.7 yppp under the tutelage of Roper. Freshman Brandon McIlwain has played in both games off the bench and he’s been even worse throwing the ball, averaging just 4.1 yards on his 35 pass plays. McIlwain is tabbed as a good runner but so far he’s averaged just 3.9 yards on his 17 runs. This week’s quarterback is undecided but I don’t think it matters much, as both have struggled in the new offensive system.
East Carolina, meanwhile, has been impressive offensively under new head coach Scottie Montgomery and quarterback Philip Nelson has transformed himself from an erratic passer in his days at Minnesota (50% completions) to the nation’s most accurate passer so far this season (61 of 75 for 81.3% completions). Nelson is much better suited for the short pass attack that he is in now than he was in the offense at Minnesota, which required more passes down the field. Nelson completed 33 of 43 passes in leading the Pirates to a 33-30 upset win over NC State and my ratings project 432 total yards at 6.1 yards per play for ECU in this game against a mediocre South Carolina defense.
Defense is where ECU has struggled so far this season, as the Pirates have yielded 6.4 yppl in two home games to Western Carolina and NC State attacks that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average defensive team. I’m expecting South Carolina to be better offensively than they’ve been so far and I project 390 yards at 5.9 yppl for the Gamecocks in this game.
South Carolina does have an advantage in special teams but my ratings make this game a pick and I’d get ECU by 6 ½ points using this season’s games only. The Pirates also apply to a 45-8-1 ATS early season indicator and I’ll consider East Carolina a Strong Opinion at +3 points or more.