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