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

Police give ‘all-clear’ after threat was made against Beaver Stadium

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Joe Paterno is seen on the scoreboard during a time out against the Temple Owls during the game on September 17, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Apparently someone didn’t want the Minnesota-Penn State game to go on.  Or has waaay too much time on their hands.  Or both.

Penn State Police confirmed Saturday that the department had “received information about a potential threat made against Beaver Stadium” prior to today’s game.  According to a release, “[p]olice have conducted several exhaustive searches of the facility and surrounding areas, and have found no evidence of a potential risk.”

The game, scheduled for a 3:30 EI kickoff, has been given the “all-clear” and will be played as expected with no delays.

“Out of an abundance of caution we are notifying fans and the public of the threat that was received, so that they can make their own choices about personal safety and their attendance at today’s game,” said David Gray, senior vice president for Finance and Business, in a statement. “Our first obligation is to the safety of the public and, while police and safety officials have given an all-clear for today’s game, we wanted to ensure that visitors were aware of this decision.”

The release added that, “[a]s is typical for home football games, increased security measures are in place and police are on heightened alert.”

T. Boone Pickens issues statement to ‘clear air’ on comments regarding Mike Gundy

STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 17 :  The scoreboard near the end of the game September 17, 2016 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma State defeated Pitt 45-38. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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The relationship — or lack thereof — between Oklahoma State’s biggest financial booster and its head football coach is once again in the news.

Earlier this week, billionaire T. Boone Pickens offered an “update” on his rocky relationship with Mike Gundy, saying he doesn’t “have any conversations” with the head coach.  The business magnate also decided to take a shot at Gundy’ personality.

“I don’t know, but Mike doesn’t handle people relationships very well. And he gets mad about things,” Pickens said Tuesday. “I’ve heard he’s written some notes about me that weren’t very complimentary.”

The comments made news and remained in the headlines for the rest of the week, enough so that Pickens decided he needed to issue a statement on game day to “clear [the] air” on the situation.  In the statement, Pickens describes himself as “88 years old… [with] competitive spirits [that] have not diminished.” Pickens, who reminded everyone again that he recommended Gundy for the job, further clarified the current status of his relationship with the coach, stating that “I have not placed a call to Mike Gundy in years.”

“It’s his program to run, not mine,” wrote the man whose name adorns the Cowboys’ football home.

Pickens went on to say that he does “not intend to talk about our relationship publicly going forward.”  Why Pickens decided to make his “final” statement on the day of a huge Big 12 matchup with Texas — less than two hours before kickoff at that — is a question that many OSU fans — and school officials — will be asking themselves for quite a while.

Leonard Fournette reportedly ‘very doubtful’ for LSU vs. Mizzou

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 3:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers runs with the ball in the third quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Lambeau Field on September 3, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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Earlier this week, interim LSU head coach Ed Orgeron labeled Leonard Fournette as a “game-day decision.”  With game day upon us, the decision doesn’t appear to be a positive one for the Tigers.

While there’s been no official word from the football program, Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com is reporting that the star running back is “very doubtful”for today’s game against Missouri because of a lingering ankle issue.

The All-American initially injured the ankle during a mid-August summer camp practice; then aggravated it against Wisconsin in the opener; sat out the Week 2 game against an FCS foe; and then aggravated it again in Week 4 against Auburn.

After leading the country in yards per game last season with nearly 163 yards per game, Fournette is currently 10th at 128.7. That total still tops the SEC.

With Fournette sidelined, the running-game burden will likely fall on the legs of Derrius Guice.  The sophomore is currently second behind Fournette with 239 yards, and leads the team with an 8.2 yards per carry average on his 29 attempts.

Checking in on the nation’s longest winning & losing streaks

Alabama's head coach Saban instructs his players as they take on the LSU Tigers during their NCAA football game in Baton Rouge
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Unbelievably, at the end of today, we’ll be more than one-third of the way through the 2016 regular season as the calendar flips from September to October. And, not surprisingly, some teams are faring better than others — and some, suffice to say, are not.

In “water’s wet, sky’s blue” news, defending national champions and undefeated top-ranked Alabama holds the nation’s longest winning streak at 16 in a row. ‘Bama’s last loss came Sept. 19 a year ago against Ole Miss. In fact, the Tide hasn’t really come close to seeing that streak end since as just two of their last 16 games have been decided by 10-plus points, with the lone exceptions being a 19-14 win over Tennessee in October of last year and 43-37 over Ole Miss just two weeks ago.

What might surprise you, though, is the second-longest streak behind ‘Bama. The holder of that honor? San Diego State, which has peeled off 13 wins in a row entering Week 5. Tennessee is the only other team in double digits, with 10 wins in a row dating back to last season.  The Vols’ last loss?  To the Tide, of course, a defeat that UT will get to avenge two weeks from today in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium.

A total of nine teams will also take the field Saturday with a winning streak of at least five in a row:

7 — Houston, Washington
6 — Louisville, Utah, Western Michigan, Wisconsin
5 — Boise State, Navy, Ohio State

Clemson could join some combination of the above at that five-game winning-streak plateau Saturday, but to get there they’ll have to beat… Louisville.

On the other side of the won-loss ledger, the “proud” owner of the nation’s longest losing streak entering the 2016 season was Kansas* at 15 straight, followed by UCF (13), Charlotte (10), Eastern Michigan (10), Oregon State (nine) and Boston College (eight).

All six of those teams have seen those losing streaks come to a merciful end, with EMU actually off to a 3-1 start to the year. The team that was just behind BC, Wake Forest, carried a six-game losing streak into 2016 before surprisingly (stunningly?) winning their first four games of the season.

So, with all of that winning from last year’s biggest losers, who’s the current “top” loser? That title now belongs to the Northern Illinois Huskies, the winners of the last six MAC West championships — and three of the last six conference titles — who have started this season with four straight losses to stretch their ignominious streak to a nation’s best/worst seven in a row. Just three other teams have a streak that began during the 2015 season: Florida International, which has lost six in a row and already fired their head coach; Arkansas State, which lost its first four of this season to push its streak to five in a row; and Georgia State, 0-3 on the season to add to a loss in the 2015 Cure Bowl for a four-game losing streak.

Two additional teams are winless on the season after winning their last game of 2015: Miami of Ohio and Rice, which are each 0-4 in 2016.

(*While Kansas’ overall losing streak came to an end, they’ve still lost 17 in a row against FBS opponents, with the last one of those coming in early November of 2015 against Iowa State.)