The Swami

Predictions 101 — Week 5

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We’re beginning to feel a little bit like Dabo Swinney. “Our team believes! We’ve got heart!”

Against all odds, this hot streak continued through Week 4 as we went 8-4 vs. “the number” (half of those losses were by half-a-point, but we’ll take it). Our straight-up record was 11-1, with the only setback coming courtesy of the Burbank satellite office’s ill-fated belief in Texas A&M. Oh well.

After four dozen games, that puts us at a wicked 34-11-1 (two games weren’t on the board) and 36-12.

We believe in what we’re saying here, but now is not the time to jump on the bandwagon. Hopefully, you’ve been riding. If that’s the case, consider jumping off.

TOP 10 GAMES (Sat., Oct. 1)

1) No. 3 Alabama at No. 12 Florida
Sat., Oct. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, CBS

There was lots of competition for the top spot, but it’s next to impossible to surpass this matchup when things are going well for the Crimson Tide and Gators.

Alabama (4-0, 1-0 in SEC) is coming off an impressive defensive performance against Arkansas last Saturday. The Tide allowed the Razorbacks to gain just 226 yards of total offense and score only14 points, far less than what they came in averaging (517 and 47). Offensively, Bama just continues to roll behind the running of Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.

Florida (4-0, 2-0) counters with their speedy duo of ground gainers, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, who were major contributors to the whopping total of 405 rushing yards in last week’s 48-10 victory over Kentucky. We believe in Charlie Weis’ ability as an offensive coordinator with the same voracity as we discounted his suitability to be a head coach. However, Nick Saban’s defense is up for any challenge.

The Tide rocked the Gators, 31-6, last season, winning for the fifth time in the last seven meetings. They won’t get that kind of separation this year, but they’ll survive The Swamp.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 5

The pick: Alabama 23-21

Final: Alabama 38-10

2) No. 8 Nebraska at No. 7 Wisconsin
Sat., Oct. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Seriously, how much history can you squeeze into Camp Randall Stadium along with those 20,000 Cornhusker fans?

Not only is this Nebraska’s first Big Ten game, but it’s also the first time since 1962 that two top-10 teams are going head-to-head in Madison … and they could meet again in Indy at the conference’s first championship game.

Russell Wilson leads the Big Ten with 1,136 passing yards, owns a completion percentage of 75.8 and has tossed 11 touchdown passes, against only one interception. However, take a look at who all of those numbers were compiled against. Wisconsin (4-0) has waltzed past UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota, and won’t play a true road game until Oct. 22.

Nebraska (4-0) has played a tougher slate, but the 81 points allowed in the last three games (Fresno State, Washington and at Wyoming) is cause for concern when facing such a powerful attack.

Bret Bielema has lost only three of his 37 home games, and all three of those conquerors went on to do some BCS bowling. We don’t see the Huskers being at that level just yet.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 8

The pick: Wisconsin 38-23

Final: Wisconsin 48-17

3) No. 14 Texas A&M vs. No. 18 Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)
Sat., Oct. 1 — noon ET, ESPN

These former Southwest Conference rivals are future Southeastern Conference rivals, now that the Aggies have officially finalized their move from the Longhorn League to the Big League.

Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1 in Big 12) denied P101 of a clean sweep last week, allowing Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden to throw for 438 yards in that 30-29 come-from-ahead loss.

That sort of defensive performance is a far cry from what Arkansas (3-1, 0-1 in SEC) experienced last Saturday at Alabama, which yielded just 226 total yards and 14 points to the Hogs. But that doesn’t mean quarterback Tyler Wilson will be out there doing as he pleases against an Aggie unit that leads the nation with 14 sacks.

The Razorbacks are riding a 12-game winning streak in non-SEC games, but since this is something like half a conference contest, we feel OK about bucking the trend.

Opening point spread: Texas A&M by 3 1/2

The pick: Texas A&M 30-28

Final: Arkansas 42-38

4) No. 13 Clemson at No. 11 Virginia Tech
Sat., Oct. 1 — 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2

This week’s No. 13 team vs. last week’s No. 13 team should produce a fantastic battle.

Headlined by quarterback Tajh Boyd and freshman phenom wideout Sammy Watkins, Clemson (4-0, 1-0 in ACC) is the hot topic in college football right now. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ stock is rising rapidly. His mastery of third down is stunning, having converted on 23 of 35 opportunities in the recent victories over Auburn and Florida State.

As usual, Virginia Tech (4-0, 0-0) will provide a tough test defensively. Although they’ve only faced second-tier opposition so far, the Hokies rank within the nation’s top six in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense.

The Clemson defense, which has been much less impressive so far, will have to step it up. We don’t expect the young Tigers on the offensive side of the football to be fully comfortable during their first road game of the season.

Opening point spread: Virginia Tech by 7 1/2

The pick: Virginia Tech 26-24

Final: Clemson 23-3

5) Auburn at No. 10 South Carolina
Sat., Oct. 1 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

This prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif. He’s breaking away from his usual focus on thoroughbred horse racing to take another shot. The kid’s got some guts. He ain’t taking an easy route to break his maiden.

Sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore may be the best player in the country and is a beast both running the football (leads SEC with 611 rushing yards) and catching it (13.4 yards per reception).

Against Auburn (3-1, 1-0 in SEC), which is allowing over 477 yards and 31 points per game, Lattimore (28 career TDs) and junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey (16 trips to the end zone and more than 2,500 receiving yards) should have big days.

However, fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia is a serious crimp in South Carolina’s (4-0, 2-0) stride. His bevy of unconscionable mistakes have led to seven interceptions this year and could prove too much for the Cocks to overcome against a team they have lost to six consecutive times, including twice last year.

Despite youth on both sides of the ball, third-year coach Gene Chizik has the firepower with sophomore running back Michael Dyer and junior wide receiver Emory Blake to not only keep this game within the generous number, but pull off the outright upset.

Opening point spread: South Carolina by 11 1/2

The pick: Auburn 35-34

Final: Auburn 16-13

6) No. 17 Texas at Iowa State
Sat., Oct. 1 — 7 p.m. ET, FX

The nadir of last season’s 5-7 Longhorn campaign was a 28-21 loss to the Cyclones in Austin that wasn’t as close as the final score seems to indicate. It was an old fashioned thumping, plain and simple.

This season, Texas (3-0) has been talking openly about giving a “little something extra” back to the teams that contributed to their misery last year. UCLA got its share, plus the interest, two weeks ago.

Iowa State (3-0) has won its first three games for the first time since 2005. Each victory has been a nail-biter. The Cyclones’ combined margin of victory is just eight points, which includes a 44-41 overtime win over Iowa on Sept. 10.

Quarterback Steele Jantz runs a little too hot-n-cold to hang around with Texas, but the Longhorn youngsters won’t be able to run away on the road.

Opening point spread: Texas by 9

The pick: Texas 27-24

Final: Texas 37-14

7) Kentucky at No. 1 LSU
Sat., Oct. 1 — 12:21 p.m. ET

The last time the Wildcats faced the Tigers they beat top-ranked LSU, 43-37, in double overtime. That was back in 2007 and up in Lexington. The payback time bomb has been ticking ever since.

Kentucky (2-2, 0-1 in SEC) has turned the football over 10 times already this season, ranking ninth in the SEC in turnover margin. LSU (4-0, 1-0) is first in the league in turnover margin (+2). Yikes. We smell a lot of extra possessions.

The Wildcats also have trouble protecting the passer. Only two teams in the nation have allowed more sacks than Kentucky (16). That’s a recipe for disaster when facing a wrecking crew Tiger defense, averaging 8.5 tackles for loss per game.

Perhaps the biggest question is if the Wildcats will score a touchdown. In their past two trips to Baton Rouge combined, they’ve absorbed an 83-0 whitewashing.

Opening point spread: LSU by 28

The pick: LSU 45-7

Final: LSU 35-7

8 ) Nevada at No. 4 Boise State
Sat., Oct. 1 — 2:30 p.m. ET, Versus

Remember the Bronco debacle last November? That 34-31 overtime loss to the Wolf Pack knocked Boise State out of the BCS, all the way down to the Maaco Bowl in Las Vegas.

Distracted by the dramatic missed field goals at the end, many people forget about the furious comeback by Nevada, which trailed, 24-7, at halftime.

So much is different this season. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua no longer fuel the backfield for Nevada (1-2, 1-0 in WAC). And Boise State (3-0, 0-0 in MWC) has yet to even attempt a field goal this season.

The Broncos won’t mess up this opportunity to redeem themselves for last year’s second half collapse versus the Wolf Pack.

Opening point spread: Boise State by 28

The pick: Boise State 42-20

Final: Boise State 30-10

9) Notre Dame at Purdue
Sat., Oct. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Boilermakers had last weekend off. Prior to that, they dismantled Southeast Missouri State, 59-0. And since Purdue (2-1, 0-0 in Big Ten) opened the season against Middle Tennessee and Rice – albeit with varied success – a case can be made that the Boilermakers have been preparing for Notre Dame (2-2) ever since fall camp opened.

Whether or not that results in being able to send the Fighting Irish back under .500 remains to be seen.

We’ll side with the Brian Kelly’s battle-tested crew, figuring that the rash of turnovers and critical mistakes will subside.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 13

The pick: Notre Dame 24-19

Final: Notre Dame 38-10

10) Michigan State at Ohio State
Sat., Oct. 1 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN

Both of these 3-1 teams lost the only real games on their schedule so far. The Buckeyes failed to compete at Miami (Fla.) and the Spartans got beat up at Notre Dame.

Guess what, someone’s about to post a legit victory in this Big Ten opener.

We’ll go with Michigan State, which leads the nation in total defense, yielding just 172 yards per game (only 101 through the air). That figures to be a tough nut to crack for Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller.

Just his luck … Luke Fickell is the first Buckeye coach to open conference play against the league’s defending champ since Big Ten play began in 1913.

Opening point spread: Ohio State by 2 1/2

The pick: Michigan State 24-23

Final: Michigan State 10-7

TWO MORE YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE

Air Force at Navy
Sat., Oct. 1 — noon ET, CBS

This game kicks off the 40th year of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition … and will likely decide it.

After seven consecutive years of naval domination, Air Force (2-1, 0-1 in MWC) captured the coveted hardware last season, due in large part to its 14-6 victory over the Midshipmen.

Dating back to last year, Navy (2-1) has scored on 42 of its last 45 trips into the red zone (38 touchdowns). That kind of execution, combined with the fact that the Falcons will be missing four defensive starters, makes it hard to imagine that the Middies won’t prevail, especially in Annapolis where head coach Ken Niumatalolo is 14-3.

Opening point spread: Navy by 2 1/2

The pick: Navy 26-20

Final: Air Force 35-34, OT

UCLA at No. 6 Stanford
Sat., Oct. 1 — 10:30 p.m. ET, FSN

Why this unimpressive matchup? C’mon, we couldn’t totally ignore the Pac-12 this week … and we’re tired of picking up those go-against-USC gimmies on account of Lane Kiffin being a complete fraud.

UCLA (2-2, 1-0 in Pac-12) is averaging 214 rushing yards per game. That might mean something at some point, but not this Saturday.

Stanford (3-0, 1-0) currently leads the nation in run defense, allowing just 36 yards per game on the ground.

The Cardinal have allowed only nine touchdowns in their last nine games, dating back to last season. The Bruins will be lucky to get into the endzone once.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 21

The pick: Stanford 41-13

Final: Stanford 45-19

Week 5 record: 9-3
Total: 45-15

Vandy turns to familiar face to fill coaching role of assistant fighting cancer

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 22:  Josh Crawford #22 of the Vanderbilt Commodores celebrates a touchdown against the Tennessee State Tigers scored by teammate Trent Sherfield #10 during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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With an assistant fighting a significant health issue, Derek Mason has turned to someone very familiar with the Vanderbilt football program to fill the coaching void.

Vandy confirmed Monday that Warren Belin has been hired as the Commodores’ outside linebackers coach. Belin will, at least temporarily, replace Osia Lewis, who stepped down from his job as he battles liver cancer. Lewis will transition into an of-field role within the program as he fights the disease.

The announcement came on the same day Vandy kicked off spring practice.

From 2002 through 2009, Belin was Vandy’s linebacker’s coach under Bobby Johnson. He was at Wake Forest in the same role from 2013-15.

Last season, he was with the Demon Deacons in an off-field role as director of high school relations.

Blocked from Pitt and Syracuse, Gus Edwards’ transfer from Miami to Rutgers is official

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Gus Edwards #7 of the Miami Hurricanes rushes for a touchdown during a game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Sunlife Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In opting to leave Miami in late January, Gus Edwards was restricted by the university from transferring to two of his top choices in Pittsburgh and Syracuse as they were on this coming season’s schedule. A little over a month later, the Staten Island native, who wanted to transfer and move closer to home as he was a new father, has found his new college football home in the same area of the country.

On its official Twitter account earlier Monday, Rutgers announced that Edwards has transferred into the Scarlet Knights football program. As Edwards will be coming in as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2017.

The upcoming season will be the running back’s final year of eligibility.

Edwards was third on the team this past season in rushing with 290 yards. For his Hurricanes career, the 6-1, 230-pound back ran for 977 yards and 12 touchdowns on 186 carries.

A foot injury suffered in summer camp cost Edwards the entire 2015 season. He received a medical redshirt for that season.

Mississippi State announces contract extension for Dan Mullen

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 5:  Head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrates with fans after the end of an NCAA college football game at Davis Wade Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi State beat the Texas A&M Aggies 35-28. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
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With its Egg Bowl rivals knee/neck-deep in controversy — and with said rival reportedly trying to bring it down as well at one point — Mississippi State has taken the time to put a positive face on the current state of its football program.

The Bulldogs announced Monday night that they have reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension with head football coach Dan Mullen.  The new deal means Mullen is signed through February of 2021.

According to the school, Mullen’s financial package will be $4.5 million for 2017.  Mullen was paid $4.2 million in 2016, a figure that was seventh in the SEC according to USA Today‘s salary database.

“I am very thankful to the University and athletic administration for their belief in me,” Mullen, the subject of myriad coaching carousel rumors the last handful of years, said in a statement. “We have built a special program over the last eight years, creating a culture where winning is expected while achieving that in the toughest division in college football. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and I am truly excited about the direction we are heading as a program. This extension allows my family a long-term future here in Starkville, a place we are proud to call home.”

Since taking over as MSU’s coach in 2009, Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a 61-42 record overall and 29-35 in conference play.  In those eight seasons, the best divisional finish was second in 2014.  In the other seven seasons, they were either fifth (five times) or fourth (twice) in the SEC West.

The Bulldogs have gone to a bowl game each of the past seven seasons, the longest such streak in school history.  They’re also 5-3 against Ole Miss under Mullen.

“Dan has brought unprecedented success to Bulldog football and is one of the elite coaches in the country,” athletic director John Cohen said. “From a school-record seven straight bowl games to our performance in the classroom, he continues to raise the standard of excellence.”

North Texas, SMU extend series with four more games

DALLAS - SEPTEMBER 24:  A general view of before a game between the TCU Horned Frogs and the SMU Mustangs at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on September 24, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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North Texas and SMU jointly announced Monday the two sides have extended their on-going home-and-home series with four more games.

The Mean Green and Mustangs will meet Sept. 1, 2018 in Denton, Sept. 7, 2019 in Dallas, Sept. 5, 2020 in Denton, and Sept. 11, 2021 in Dallas.

The Interstate 35 rivals meet annually from 1922 through 1942, resumed their series on a near-annual basis from 1974 through SMU 1992, and then again picked up the rivalry on an annual basis in 2014.

SMU holds a 30-5-1 all-time lead and owns a 2-game winning streak, including a 34-21 win on Sept. 3 of last season. The pair will meet Sept. 9 in Dallas.

North Texas also announced a home-and-home with Texas Tech earlier this month.