Fifth ranked TCU remains undefeated and a candidate to win the national championship, but the leaky defense of the Horned Frogs makes it tough to give 13 points to West Virginia.
The undefeated fifth ranked team in the country could be involved in a much closer game than the double-digit point spread suggests Thursday night when the West Virginia Mountaineers (3-3, 2-4 ATS) pay a visit to those fifth ranked TCU Horned Frogs (7-0, 3-4 ATS) at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, TX at 7:30 ET in a game televised nationally on FOX Sports 1.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has West Virginia as a big underdog for this contest with the current line at +13 with odds of -106.
Both Teams Coming off of Bye
We went on the record before the season picking TCU to win the national championship this year, and they have done nothing wrong yet while going a perfect 7-0 to start the season. They also come off of a bye week after a 45-21 win at Iowa State on Saturday, October 17th, although they do not get the benefit of having two full weeks off having to play this Thursday night game this week in front of the FOX Sports 1 cameras.
The same thing is true about West Virginia, which also last played two Saturdays ago. The Mountaineers probably welcomed the extra days off more though as they have been the losing college football picks in three straight games following a 3-0 start, leaving them in dire need of a win currently at 0-3 in Big 12 Conference play. While they could not have picked a more difficult opponent to try and get that win against, this game could be closer than many think.
Defense the TCU Achilles Heel?
TCU was ranked second in the country over the first few weeks of the season, but the Horned Frogs have steadily dropped three spots while remaining undefeated. How does that happen, you may ask? Well, the Horned Frogs have had more close calls along the way this season than they did while mostly blowing teams away last year, as they have had to score late in 2015 to beat Texas Tech 55-52 and beat Kansas State 52-45.
In fact, TCU has a losing 3-4 ATS mark, and as you can tell by those scores, the issue has been the defense, which is especially disappointing to us as we picked the Horned Frogs to win the national title before the season because we thought the defense would be improved this season over last year, which unfortunately has not been the case.
Sure the statistics say that TCU is allowing 26.6 points per game and 397.4 total yards per contest, which are already very mediocre numbers, but the truth is the Horned Frogs have not even been that good defensively as those numbers are skewed by allowing seven points to Stephen F. Austin of the FCS and seven points to the Texas Longhorns when they were still searching for an offense.
Take away those outliers and, besides the two high scoring close calls already mentioned, the Horned Frogs had more trouble than expected while beating lowly SMU 56-37 and in that 45-21 win over Iowa State before the bye, two turnovers by the Cyclones proved critical as Iowa State actually ran up 461 total yards.
There is obviously nothing wrong with a TCU offense led by a Heisman Trophy hopeful at quarterback in Trevone Boykin, as the Horned Frogs are second in the country in both scoring (50.1 points per game) and total offense (616.3 yards), but unless the defense improves, the Frogs will remain vulnerable when facing other good offenses.
Versatile West Virginia Offense
And West Virginia qualifies as a good offense with the Mountaineers ranking 19th in the land in total offense with 485.5 yards per game while averaging 36.3 points, which should come as no surprise for a team with an offensive guru as head coach in Dana Holgorsen. But what makes the West Virginia especially tough is its versatility, and we are expecting to see heavy doses of running back Wendell Smallwood and the running game this week.
That is because TCU is 80th in the country in run defense allowing 173.9 rushing yards per game, and the Mountaineers are averaging an nice 215.7 rushing yards per contest offensively led by Smallwood, who has rushed for 678 yards on an impressive 6.7 yards per carry with five touchdowns. That should allow the Mountaineers to successfully execute a game plan of running often and burning clock, thereby keeping Boykin and the lethal TCU offense on the sideline.
Tight Finishes the Last Three Years
Finally, perhaps no team inside the Big 12 has played TCU tougher than West Virginia has. These team met for the first time three years ago, and in the three meetings since, TCU won in overtime 39-38 in 2012, West Virginia returned the favor by winning in overtime 30-27 in 2013 and then last year the Mountaineers were the team that came closest to beating the Horned Frogs other than the TCU loss to Baylor, with the Frogs prevailing just 31-30!
And a common theme those last three years has been the visiting team winning outright every time. That may not be the case again here this time around, but we do expect another tight battle to the finish so take the big points with West Virginia visiting TCU at Fort Worth in prime time Thursday.
College Football Pick: West Virginia +13 (-106)