It’s a rare Mountain West Conference preview here at Doc’s as Fresno State and Nevada face off in the final kickoff of Saturday night. The two teams couldn’t be more different, and I don’t necessarily mean on the field. Fresno State is 9-1 ATS on the season, which is the second-best mark in the country behind 10-0 Utah State (off this week). If you have been backing Nevada all season, you are deeply in the hole as the Wolf Pack have one of the country’s worst ATS marks at 2-7. The script is flipped on the “over/under”: Nevada is among the best at 6-3 (Tennessee leads at 9-0) and FSU is 3-6 (Bowling Green at the bottom at 1-9).
This game has Mountain West title implications for the Bulldogs (7-3, 5-1). They are currently tied atop the MWC with San Diego State, a game ahead of Boise State and Air Force. Fresno has beaten SDSU, lost to Boise State and closes next week at home vs. AFA. Nevada (6-3, 3-2) is just looking to improve its bowl portfolio, although it has an outside shot at sharing the MWC title. It does end the regular season at home vs. Boise State, so the Wolf Pack might do Fresno a favor on Dec. 1.
Any ties in the conference standings at the end of the season don’t lock teams into bowls. The Mountain West’s five bowl partners can essentially chose whatever teams they want. The Las Vegas Bowl gets first choice and the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego gets the second choice; no doubt the Poinsettia Bowl would want the Aztecs.
Fresno State at Nevada Betting Storylines
Nevada has lost two in a row but hasn’t played since a 48-31 defeat to Air Force on Oct. 26. The Wolf Pack allowed a ghastly 461 rushing yards to that one-dimensional AFA offense. Perhaps the best player you have never heard of plays on Nevada: running back Stefphon Jefferson. He is No. 2 in the nation in carries (271, behind Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell), No. 3 in rushing yards (1,341, but No. 1 in yards per game at 149.0) and tied for fourth with 16 rushing TDs. Jefferson actually has had his worst two-game total of the season in the Wolf Pack’s past two losses, totaling 201 yards on 52 carries. With a big finish, he could become Nevada’s first-ever 2,000-yard rusher. The single-season school record for TD rushes is 20 by current 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick, so that’s likely to fall.
Nevada is the only team in the nation averaging at least 260 yards passing and rushing and tops the Mountain West in scoring at 39.6 points per game. It has scored at least 31 points in every game. But the defense allows 31.9 points and 432.0 yards a game; it is allowing 39.7 in the team’s three losses. The Wolf Pack could easily be 8-1 -- they have two home losses by a point each. In Week 2, they lost 32-31 to South Florida on a 56-yard touchdown pass with 38 seconds left. On Oct. 20 vs. San Diego State, Nevada lost 39-38 when the Aztecs chose to go for a two-point conversion after their overtime touchdown.
Fresno State enters on a three-game winning streak in which it is outscoring opponents 136-56. FSU is running a new pass-heavy spread offense this season under first-year coach Tim DeRuyter, and it has been very successful. The Bulldogs average 38.3 points per game, second to Nevada in the conference, and are No. 13 nationally in passing at 317.2 per game.
Junior QB Derek Carr, the younger brother of former Fresno State star and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick David Carr, is second in the nation with 3,070 yards and tied for second with 30 touchdown passes. He has thrown only five interceptions. The Bulldogs also have an NFL-caliber running back in Robbie Rouse (1,101 yards, 10 TDs) and receiver in Davante Adams (leads MWC with 71 catches, 907 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns).
Defensively, Fresno State is solid, allowing 21.6 points per game. Safeties Phillip Thomas (7) and Derron Smith (5) have combined for 12 picks and the Bulldogs lead the country with 17 total interceptions.
Fresno State at Nevada Betting Odds and Trends
On 5Dimes, FSU is a 3.5-point favorite with the total at 69.5. Fresno State is 4-1 ATS on the road and 1-4 O/U. Nevada is 0-4 ATS at home and 2-1 O/U.
The Bulldogs are 7-1 ATS in their last eight games following a ATS win. FSU is 6-1 ATS in its past seven road games vs. a team with a winning home record. Nevada is 3-12-1 ATS in its past 16 games overall. Wolf Pack are 0-6-1 ATS in their past seven vs. a team with a winning record. The underdog is 5-2 ATS in their last seven meetings.
College Football Picks: Fresno State at Nevada Predictions
Nevada has won four straight in this series because of a dominant run game that averaged 361.5 yards per game and more than 7.3 yards per carry those games. All four have been high-scoring and the last two close. For example, last year in Reno the Wolf Pack won 45-38 in a game that featured 1,103 yards of offense. Special-teams mistakes doomed FSU in that one. Rouse has accounted for 424 yards and five scores himself in the past two meetings.
I’m not really sure why this year’s game is also in Reno, but it’s only the sixth time the Wolf Pack have been a home dog in the past five seasons, according to the local paper. I don’t see how Nevada’s defense can stop the Bulldogs; the Wolf Pack haven’t forced a punt in an astonishing 15 straight possessions. The Fresno State defense, on the other hand, has forced 26 turnovers (third in nation) and has forced at least one turnover in all 10 games this season, with three or more in five games.
I was all set to recommend taking FSU here and the over. Then I looked at the weather forecast: possible snow showers (probably over by kickoff) and temperatures in the high teens. That should muffle the offenses somewhat. So now I lean toward Nevada, which does have the benefit of that extra week to prepare, and the under.
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