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Facing the Numbers - Penalties, Special Teams, Miami Pittsburgh & Weekend Picks

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I face reality and discuss Miami's loss to Virginia. Everyone is talking about the bigger issues, but I think it's worthwhile to talk about two areas that aren't getting much attention - special teams and penalties. I also recap my year of picks and show you some stats that seem truly hard to believe.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

"You are what your record says you are." - Bill Parcells

I'm always the most optimistic writer on this site, but this week I have had to face reality. Miami is a 6-5 football team. While there were moments of excitement, moments of hope, even a few exciting wins, this season can only be viewed as a failure. Despite my disappointment, I understand and respect many of the excuses for losing to Louisville, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, and FSU. The debacle on Saturday night against Virginia is a different story. I won't be joining the chorus of online negativity that surrounds Miami's coaching staff and Al Golden, but for the time being, I have given up the battle of defending them.

Before I inundate you with numbers, I will ask everyone to still come out and support the Canes this Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium. A win over Pittsburgh still matters and this senior class has been through a lot during their time in Coral Gables. Let's honor Clive Walford, Anthony Chickillo, Phillip Dorsett, Jon Feliciano, Shane McDermott, Denzel Perryman, Olsen Pierre, Thurston Armbrister, and Ryan Williams the right way.

By now, everyone has seen the depressing numbers - Miami's record under Al Golden, Miami's record in the ACC, and Miami's results on the road this season.  Since those have been covered ad-nauseum, I want to focus on two other sets of numbers that haven't gotten as much attention as they should.

Special Teams

Al Golden coaches Miami's special teams and that unit has largely been a disaster all season. For years, I was always excited when Miami was about to receive a punt or a kickoff. I knew how talented Miami's athletes were and the anticipation of a possible big play got my adrenaline pumping. On Saturday night in the third quarter, I actually verbalized my desires for Stacy Coley to take a knee after catching the ball one yard deep in the end zone. I came to the depressing realization that a touchback is better than what Miami seems to be capable of in the return game. There is simply no way of explaining how that should be possible, given Miami's speed and talent at WR, RB, and DB.

I'm not counting Hugo Delapenha's blocked punt return in the final minutes of the Virginia game in these numbers. The stats about the kicking game are equally disappointing, considering how important those four points were against FSU. In addition, Virginia blocking Miami's short FG at the end of the first half completely changed the momentum in the game. If that kick is good, the Canes go into the half tied at 10 and feeling confident.

All stats are from cfbstats.com

This Season

- Miami has returned 22 punts for a total of 133 yards and zero touchdowns.

- Miami only has one punt return of over 20 yards, tied for 85th nationally.

- Miami has returned 29 kickoffs for a total of 614 yards (21 ypr) and zero touchdowns.

- Miami only has three kickoff returns of over 30 yards, tied for 86th nationally.

- Miami is 13-18 on Field Goals, and just 37-41 on Extra Points.

- Miami is 118th in the nation (out of 128 teams) in XP% Made

- Every team in the FBS has blocked at least one kick or punt. Miami's first came in the last two minutes against Virginia.

- Punting has been the lone bright spot for the Canes on special teams. Miami is 17th in the nation in Punting average. Justin Vogel has stepped up.

Penalties

- Miami is 109th in the nation in Penalty Yards per game. The Canes average 7.4 penalties for 66.4 yards a game. This is a significant step down from where Miami has been under Al Golden.

- In Al Golden's first three seasons, Miami averaged just 42, 57, and 45 in penalty yards per game.

Penalties at the exact wrong time killed Miami in Charlottesville. A false start penalty stopped a drive when Miami was going to go for it on 4th down, a personal foul ruined the first drive of the second half, then Artie Burns was offsides and roughed the kicker, basically giving Virginia four extra points.

My Season in Numbers

Table

Another week, another average performance. With Ohio's win last night, I went 9-9 since my last article. Like Miami, I have to face the reality of my numbers this season. Precise Mediocrity is not the result I wanted, but there are some interesting bright spots like my ability to dominate on Weeknights. That being said, there are some truly unbelievable pockets of disaster as well. I'm looking at you B1G. I have a ton of picks this weekend so let's finish strong.

Season Stats

I'm 30-40 when picking a Home Favorite and 32-22-2 when picking a Road Underdog.

If I pick a Home Team that's favored by 5.5 or less, my record is an incredible 6-18.

I'm 4-13 when picking a Big Ten Favorite.

If I pick a game where the line is exactly 3 or 3.5, my record is a Charlie Weis-like 11-25.

If I pick a game where the line is 2.5 or lower, my record is a very legit 19-6.

I'm 8-2 when picking an SEC Road Underdog and 9-1 when picking a Big 12 Underdog.

My Fab Four (Teams that step up in the clutch)

Oregon 4-0

Cincinnati 4-0

Texas Tech 4-2

Utah 3-0

I Demand an Apology (Teams I've picked that have let me down)

Michigan 0-5

Miami 3-5

Stanford 1-3

FSU 1-3

Auburn 2-4

I Laugh at Your Misfortune (Teams I love to pick against)

Oregon State 6-1

Florida 5-2

Oklahoma State 4-1

LSU 4-2

USC 4-1

Syracuse 3-0

You Own Me and I Can't Admit It

Arizona State 1-4

Notre Dame 1-4

Iowa 2-4

Missouri 1-3

THE PICKS

MIAMI -10 vs Pittsburgh   7pm - ESPN2

I fully expect Pitt's star RB James Conner to play on Saturday. He will be a challenge for Miami's front seven. Pitt relies heavily on their running game, averaging 253 yards a contest. Pitt QB Chad Voytik hasn't proven he can beat teams with his arm this season. Miami has been hideous on the road this year, but the Canes are 5-1 at home. Duke Johnson will likely be joining the senior class in the NFL next season so I expect him to have a huge night. He'll leave Miami as the leading rusher in school history, which is an incredible accomplishment. Pitt's defense has struggled down the stretch, allowing 56 points to Georgia Tech, 51 to Duke in 2OT, and 40 to UNC. Brad Kaaya should have a solid game and I expect Dorsett and Walford to play well on their Senior Night. Miami finishes 7-5 and fans are left thinking about what could've been.

TEXAS +7 vs Tcu   730pm - ESPN - THURSDAY

Texas has won three straight and the Longhorns have an elite defense. TCU will struggle on the road and the pressure around the College Football Playoff will be a factor. This game will go down to the wire.

TEXAS A&M +3 vs Lsu   730pm - FS1 - THURSDAY

This battle of two average SEC teams will be decided by the home-field advantage of Kyle Field. LSU has lost two straight and the Tigers have scored just 20 points in their past three games combined. Texas A&M will make a few plays on offense to give the Aggies control.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS +8 at Western Michigan   11am - ESPNU - FRIDAY

This game will help decide the MAC West. While Western Michigan has been hot, winning six straight conference games, the Broncos haven't played in a game with this much significance. Northern Illinois competes for conference titles year after year and hasn't lost since early October. The NIU running game keeps this game close throughout, even if WMU QB Zach Terrell has a big afternoon.

UCF -12 at South Florida   12pm - ESPN2 - FRIDAY

USF has three conference wins, but they came against opponents that are a combined 4-27 this season. UCF should be able to control the game on both sides of the ball. The Knights are allowing just 18.5 points a game - 12th in the nation.

ARKANSAS -2 at Missouri   230pm - CBS - FRIDAY

Ride the Hogs. Arkansas has shut out their last two opponents (LSU and Ole Miss) and Bielema's team is peaking at the right time. Missouri has significant pressure to win on Friday, with a trip to the SEC Championship game on the line. Maty Mauk makes a few mistakes and the Tigers lose at home.

UCLA -5 vs Stanford   330pm - ABC - FRIDAY

UCLA is one of the hottest teams in the nation. Expect Brett Hundley to continue his late Heisman push and have a big afternoon. Stanford is 0-5 in games against ranked opponents this season.

COLORADO STATE -7 at Air Force   330pm - CBSSN - FRIDAY

Colorado State is one of the most underrated teams in America. The Rams have a great QB in Garrett Grayson who has thrown 29 TDs and just 5 INTs this season. CSU has won nine straight games and RB Dee Hart has been unstoppable in the Mountain West. Air Force has been impressive at 8-3, but won't have enough offensive firepower to stay with the Rams on Friday afternoon.

VIRGINIA TECH +1 vs Virginia   8pm - ESPN - FRIDAY

Given how Miami played against both of these teams, my pick makes no sense. I don't know why I think Virginia Tech will win on Friday night, but I've had a gut feeling all week. Frank Beamer's team survives an ugly game and becomes bowl eligible. Miami fans are left wondering once again how the Canes lost so badly at UVA.

CLEMSON -4.5 vs South Carolina   12pm - ESPN

Clemson is 6-0 at home and is finally ready to beat their rival. QB Deshaun Watson should be back this weekend and I've written about how much impact he can have for this team. The Tigers are a Top 10 team if Watson plays all year. South Carolina has been a mess in 2014 and the Gamecocks will make self-inflicted mistakes against a very good Clemson defense.

CINCINNATI -7 at Temple   12pm - ESPNNEWS

The Bearcats are still alive in the American Conference race and I've been perfect when picking Cincy this season. QB Gunner Kiel has a big afternoon and finds his talented group of wide receivers in space.

GEORGIA TECH +12.5 at Georgia   12pm - SECN

GT has won four straight and will be a very tough matchup for the Dawgs. Georgia's run defense was exposed by Florida a few weeks ago and will have problems with stopping the triple option. GT QB Justin Thomas has been terrific all season and has a chance to make a name for himself nationally, if he can engineer the upset. Georgia likely wins in the fourth quarter, but the final margin will be less than a touchdown.

NORTHWESTERN -8 vs Illinois   12pm - ESPNU

The winner of this game goes bowling and the loser stays home for the holidays. Northwestern's offense has finally figured things out, winning two straight road games at Notre Dame and Purdue. Illinois is 0-4 on the road this season and hasn't been able to establish a consistent running game. The Wildcats finish strong and win by 14.

NORTH CAROLINA -6.5 vs NCState   1230pm - ACC Network

UNC has won four of their last five games, with the only loss coming at Miami. QB Marquise Williams has played great and his confidence continues to grow. NCST has lost by double digits against every decent ACC team, with the Wolfpack's only two wins coming against 3-8 Syracuse and 3-8 Wake Forest. UNC wins by two scores.

COLORADO +9 vs Utah   1pm - Pac12 Network

The Buffs have lost seven straight games, but this is finally a chance to pull an upset. Utah is 4-4 in conference play, and the Utes have won games by 2, 6, 3, and 3. Utah really misses the explosiveness of injured WR Dres Anderson. This game is close heading into the fourth quarter.

MINNESOTA +14 at Wisconsin   330pm - BTN

Melvin Gordon has a chance to move up in the Heisman race and get his team to a Big Ten Championship, but it won't be easy. Minnesota has quieted the doubters all season and the Gophers are responsible for TCU's elevated ranking in the Playoff. Minnesota is 5-2 in the Big Ten, but those losses were by a combined 11 points. Blowing out Jerry Kill's team is harder than it seems. Wisconsin wins, but only by a touchdown.

FLORIDA STATE -7.5 vs Florida   330pm - ESPN

Send Will Muschamp out with the blowout he deserves. Florida State has to play a complete game at some point.

USC -7 vs Notre Dame   330pm - FOX

Notre Dame is a mess, entering the game on a three game losing streak. The Irish are also dealing with the loss of numerous key players on defense due to injury. Both teams are a disappointing 7-4, but I think the Trojans have more talent, especially on offense. QB Cody Kessler has been impressive all year and WR Nelson Agholor should be able to make plays against ND's secondary.

MISSISSIPPI STATE -2 at Ole Miss   330pm - CBS

Ole Miss just isn't the same team without their star WR Laquon Treadwell. QB Bo Wallace will need to play great to beat the Bulldogs and I'm not convinced he'll rise to the challenge. Miss State has all the pressure, but the Rebels have lost their last three SEC games and enter Saturday with no momentum.

AUBURN +9.5 at Alabama   745pm - ESPN

I know Auburn has struggled down the stretch, but I expect another thrilling game in the Iron Bowl. Alabama hasn't blown out many conference opponents and this rivalry always seems to provide the unexpected. Don't be shocked if QB Nick Marshall has a huge game for the Tigers and keeps this game more interesting than people are predicting.

OREGON -19.5 at Oregon State   8pm - ABC

I'm 6-1 when picking against Oregon State so let's keep the dream alive. Oregon has won six games in a row and the last five wins were all by 18 or more. Marcus Mariota plays great again on his way to the Heisman Trophy.

BOISE STATE -9 vs Utah State   1015pm - ESPN2

Boise State has won six straight and is averaging 50ppg in those contests. RB Jay Ajayi will be the difference on Saturday night. Utah State's been able to have a tremendous season, despite numerous injuries at quarterback, but Boise State is the best opponent Freshman QB Kent Myers has faced. Boise wins and stays ranked above Marshall.

WASHINGTON -3 at Washington State   1030pm - FS1

The Huskies finally played a complete game last week and dominated Oregon State. Washington State's young QB Luke Falk had four INT's last week and the Cougars can't stop anyone on defense. Look for UW to control the line of scrimmage and pull away in the second half.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.