Predictions 101 — Week 7

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For those of you who wondered if we sold our collective soul to the devil in return for that blistering start to the season, you’ll be interested to know that we went 6-6 in Week 6 vs. “the number.”

It’s some consolation to remain undefeated, but after that ridiculous run, a .500 week has us feeling like Mike Stoops instead of our boy Dabo Swinney.

On the bright side, the only blemishes on our 10-2 straight-up mark were a pair of upset stabs (Texas Tech over A&M, and Tennessee over Georgia).

After 72 games, we’re 47-21-2 (two games weren’t on the board) and 55-17.

TOP 10 GAMES (Thur., Oct. 13, thru Sat., Oct. 15)

1) No. 11 Michigan at No. 23 Michigan State
Sat., Oct. 15 — Noon ET, ESPN

This prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif. Breaking away from his usual focus on thoroughbreds, he handicaps our featured race.

After five games at the Big House to open the season, which included a miraculous escape against Notre Dame mixed in with four blowouts against second-tier competition, Michigan (6-0, 2-0 in Big Ten) hits the road for the second straight week after posting a convincing win at Northwestern.

Despite averaging 257 yards per game on the ground — with quarterback Denard Robinson accounting for a buck twenty — we’re not sold on the Wolverines’ ability to matriculate the ball down the field against well-rested Michigan State (4-1, 1-0), which allows just 64 rushing yards and 10 points per game.

Robinson is still uncomfortable when forced to throw (nine interceptions, including three last week) and there’s no open spaces in a Spartan secondary that’s allowing just 109 yards per game through the air.

With tensions high as Michigan State hopes to retain the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the fourth consecutive year, expect a low-scoring battle where the Spartan offense, led by efficient senior quarterback Kirk Cousins and his 65 percent career completion average, moves the ball just enough against a Wolverine defense that allows twice as many yards as the college version of “Gang Green.”

Opening point spread: Michigan State by 3

The pick: Michigan State 23-14

Final: Michigan State 28-14

2) No. 6 Oklahoma State at No. 22 Texas
Sat., Oct. 15 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN

Among many superlatives in last Saturday’s 70-28 dismantling of Kansas, the Cowboys forced four turnovers. That means Oklahoma State (5-0, 2-0 in Big 12) has come up with 14 takeaways in its last three games.

That trend doesn’t bode well for Texas (4-1, 1-1), which gave up enough points on offense (three of five turnovers returned for touchdowns) to lose to Oklahoma (55-17) last week.

The young Longhorn quarterbacks — Case McCoy and David Ash — are in for a long afternoon. There’s absolutely nothing to indicate that they’ll be able to trade punches with ultra-veteran Cowboy QB Brandon Weeden (28th birthday on Friday), who directs an offense that averages 51 points and 577 yards per game.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma State by 7 1/2

The pick: Oklahoma State 38-20

Final: Oklahoma State 38-26

3) No. 18 Arizona State at No. 9 Oregon
Sat., Oct. 15 — 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai’i. “Coach Hedanz” has the option to predict the outcome of Oregon games until he is wrong about one of them.

As Nike U awaits word on LaMichael James, the Ducks face their toughest competition since the opener versus LSU without their All-America tailback.

One might think that it would be a massive relief for Arizona State (5-1, 3-0 in Pac-12), which is a field goal away from being undefeated, to play Oregon (4-1, 2-0) while it’s without the nation’s leading rusher, but it really isn’t.

Kenyon Barner could start for most schools. The Ducks are truly a team that has a “1” and “1A” in the backfield. In addition, the emergence of De’Anthony Thomas and the re-emergence of Josh Huff will allow Chip Kelly to open up his playbook even further in front of the hostile home crowd at Autzen Stadium. To put things plainly, Oregon will score.

ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler is greatly improved from last year and in full command of the Sun Devil offense. We don’t expect the 6-foot-8 giant to throw four INTs as Steven Threet did last year against the Ducks, but he didn’t look comfortable on the road last month at Illinois, which sacked him six times and picked off two passes.

Oregon, which will use misdirection on offense as it did in last week’s victory over Cal, has too many weapons, even with LMJ out. Vontaze Burfict, the meanest man in college football, can’t keep track of them all.

After a first-half shootout, the Duck defense will get key stops to take control and get separation.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 14 1/2

The pick: Oregon 45-27

Final: Oregon 41-27

4) No. 20 Baylor at No. 21 Texas A&M
Sat., Oct. 15 — Noon ET, FX

The “Battle for the Brazos” has been dominated by the Aggies in recent years, winning 22 of the past 25 meetings. But as is the case with every rivalry — not just ones entering a 108th year — it’s mostly about who has won the most recent game … and this might be the last one of this series for a long time.

With Texas A&M (3-2, 1-1 in Big 12) bolting for the SEC next season, Baylor (4-1, 1-1) won’t be facing the Aggies in the foreseeable future, putting some extra importance on this bookend.

A&M’s well-known penchant for letting opposing quarterbacks get on a late roll will have the Kyle Field faithful on edge as Bear triggerman Robert Griffin III is out there doing his thing.

“RG3” leads the nation with a stunning completion percentage of 80.3 and ranks second in passing efficiency (212.9).

With quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the running back duo of Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael, the Aggies have the firepower to fight back, but the question is … how big a lead is enough?

Last year, that was Baylor’s problem as a 30-14 halftime advantage evaporated. The Bears were shutout in the second half and experienced lots of problems on special teams, resulting in a 42-30 loss.

Opening point spread: Texas A&M by 8 1/2

The pick: Texas A&M 37-34

Final: Texas A&M 55-28

5) No. 1 LSU at Tennessee
Sat., Oct. 15 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

After losing standout wideout Justin Hunter (knee injury) three games ago, Tennessee (3-2, 0-2 in SEC) now has quarterback Tyler Bray (broken thumb) on the shelf. That’s devastating to a team that cannot depend on its running game at all. The Vols rank 114th in rushing offense and are fresh off a 20-12 loss to Georgia that saw them rush for minus-20 yards.

Senior Matt Simms is a capable signalcaller, but even the second-coming of Peyton Manning would have a tough time against this Tiger defense, which has tons of quality at every level.

LSU (6-0, 3-0), on the other hand, is rushing for 183.5 yards per game and has 17 scores on the ground.

All of the Tiger victories have been by at least 13 points. There’s no reason to believe this one will be any different.

Opening point spread: LSU by 13

The pick: LSU 32-9

Final: LSU 38-7

6) Florida at No. 24 Auburn
Sat., Oct. 15 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Gators spent the past two weeks getting torn apart by Alabama (38-10) and LSU (41-11). Now they hit the road to visit the defending national champs.

We could fill your head with thoughts about how bad Auburn (4-2, 2-1 in SEC) is on defense and other mind-numbing stats about both teams. But sometimes it just comes down to how these young people deal with specific moments in time.

In this instance, Florida (4-2, 2-2) just wants this stretch of games to be over with. Not only due to its brutality, but also because they have next weekend off.

The young Gator team won’t have the focus necessary to be successful at Jordan-Hare Stadium. They’ll be thinking about next week.

It’s just like you in your cube at work when those TPS reports are due just before your vacation.

Opening point spread: Auburn by 2

The pick: Auburn 27-20

Final: Auburn 17-6

7) No. 19 Virginia Tech at Wake Forest
Sat., Oct. 15 — 6:30 p.m. ET

Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas is coming off a sparking 23-of-25 performance that saw him pass for 310 yards and three touchdowns in last Saturday’s 38-35 victory over Miami (Fla.).

Thomas’ counterpart, Tanner Price, also had a great game last week, completing 21-of-35 for 233 yards and three scores in a 35-30 win over Florida State, which gave Wake Forest (4-1, 3-0) its best conference start since joining the ACC in 1953.

However, with all due respect to the quarterbacks, this game will come down to who can run it.

Wake Forest might be able to get that done, relying on running back Josh Harris, who ran for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns in last year’s loss to Virginia Tech (5-1, 1-1). Meanwhile, the Demon Deacon defense, which allows only 102 rushing yards per game, can keep close enough tabs on Hokie running back David Wilson, who leads the league with 767 yards on the ground.

Opening point spread: Virginia Tech by 7

The pick: Wake Forest 24-23

Final: Virginia Tech 38-17

8 ) No. 8 Clemson at Maryland
Sat., Oct. 15 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU

It’s counterintuitive, but maybe the Terrapins would have preferred Tiger quarterback Tajh Boyd not sustain a hip injury in last Saturday’s 26-14 victory over Boston College. That’s because if the super soph is able to play against Maryland (2-3, 1-1 in ACC) as expected, Dabo Swinney is apt to have him hand off to running back Andre Ellington more than usual.

That’ll probably work out just fine for Clemson (6-0, 3-0), which will be going against a defense that ranks last in the ACC against the run, having allowed an average of 196 yards per game on the ground and a total of 13 rushing TDs.

Maryland is tougher versus the pass, yielding just 211 yards per game through the air and only one aerial score all season.

The Terrapins have questionable quarterbacking and a brewing QB controversy only complicates matters. The recently stingy Tiger defense won’t mind harassing either Danny O’Brien or C.J. Brown.

Opening point spread: Clemson by 7 1/2

The pick: Clemson 32-19

Final: Clemson 56-45

9) No. 2 Alabama at Mississippi
Sat., Oct. 15 — 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2

The big question is if the Crimson Tide will allow the Rebels to cross the goal line. No one else has in the last seven quarters of play against Alabama (6-0, 3-0 in SEC).

Ole Miss (2-3, 0-2) doesn’t seem like a likely candidate to break that trend, especially on the ground. The Rebels rank 99th in the nation in rushing offense. That doesn’t match up well with the Tide, which has given up only one rushing touchdown all season and is allowing just 3.2 yards per play.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 24 1/2

The pick: Alabama 35-3

Final: Alabama 52-7

10) No. 15 South Carolina at Mississippi State
Sat., Oct. 15 — Noon ET, SEC Network

Now that Connor Shaw has sparked and taken over the Gamecock offense from Stephen Garcia, many Bulldog fans are interested in something similar, after backup quarterback Tyler Russell got the job done in relief of Chris Relf in last week’s 21-3 victory over UAB.

Whoever gets the call for Mississippi State (3-3, 0-3 in SEC) doesn’t figure to get much going against South Carolina (5-1, 3-1), which boasts the nation’s third best pass defense (allowing only 128.5 yards per game through the air).

Opening point spread: South Carolina by 5 1/2

The pick: South Carolina 26-19

Final: South Carolina 14-12

TWO MORE YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE

We’re 9-2 on these vs. “the number” (Presbyterian’s game at Cal wasn’t on the board, that was just for laughs).

So, that’s why you shouldn’t ignore them … in case you were wondering. Maybe some of you should be looking here first.

USC at California
Thur., Oct. 13 — 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Golden Bears have dropped their last seven games to the Trojans and scored a total of just 20 points in the three most recent defeats.

But this isn’t your father’s USC. This is Lane Kiffin’s and his father’s USC. That USC (4-1, 2-1 in Pac-12) has a shockingly limp defense.

Look for Keenan Allen to have a big night for Cal (3-2, 0-2), stealing some of the spotlight away from another sophomore wideout by the name of Robert Woods.

Opening point spread: USC by 4

The pick: California 31-27

Final: USC 30-9

Indiana at No. 4 Wisconsin
Sat., Oct. 15 — Noon ET, ESPN2

Most people forgot or never knew that the Hoosiers and Badgers were tied up at 10-10 in the second quarter of last year’s meeting. Dropping 83 points on somebody will tend to make those kind of tidbits melt away.

As if that 63-point lambasting at Camp Randall Stadium wasn’t bad enough, Indiana (1-5, 0-2 in Big Ten) has to go back to the scene of the crime, this time as the Homecoming pinata.

We don’t subscribe to the opinion that Wisconsin (5-0, 1-0) turned it on unneccesarily a year ago. It just kind of ended up that way. Defensive TDs and third-stringers getting overly excited will lead to that sometimes.

This time around, however, with a Heisman Trophy headliner under center and Michigan State to tune up for, Bret Bielema has excuses to be unworried about anybody’s feelings.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 39

The pick: Wisconsin 59-13

Final: Wisconsin 59-7

Week 7 record: 10-2
Total: 65-19

Tennessee WR Josh Smith to miss start of season with broken collarbone

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Tennessee will be without wide receiver Josh Smith at the start of the season, including the season opener in Atlanta against Georgia Tech next week. Smith will be out of action for the next four to eight weeks with a broken collarbone.

This is the latest injury setback for MSith, who has had ankle surgery in the past as well as a groin injury in January. After catching 13 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown last season, MSith was expected to be a larger contributor to the offense this season as a slot receiver. That may eventually to prove true, but just how soon he can get back on the practice field, let alone a game field, remains to be seen.

At the minimum four weeks, Smith would likely not be returning to the field until a Week 3 matchup with UMass in Knoxville or the Week 4 SEC East battle with Georgia, also in Neyland Stadium. Tennessee has a bye week after the Georgia game to allow for an extra week of rest and recovery if needed. If Smith is out for a full eight weeks, his first game back for the Vols could potentially be the October 21 game at Alabama.

Smith also returned six punts last season for a total of 35 yards.

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: Playoff Predictions

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Fair warning: CFT’s 2017 College Football Playoff predictions are boring

But, sometimes, reality is boring.

Alabama and Ohio State have pulled ahead of the pack in recruiting, return a number of players — or, at least, a large enough number to outflank the competition — and are still coached by Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. As such, our staff is picking (with one outlier) those two to square off for the 2017 national championship, with different views on how the title game goes down.

Kevin
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over Florida State
Sugar Bowl: Alabama over Penn State
CFP National Championship: Ohio State over Alabama

Bryan
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over Florida State
Sugar Bowl: Alabama over USC
CFP National Championship: Ohio State over Alabama

Zach
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over Stanford
Sugar Bowl: Alabama over Florida State
CFP National Championship: Alabama over Ohio State

John
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over USC
Sugar Bowl: Florida State over Alabama
CFP National Championship: Ohio State over Florida State

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: Playoff Dark Horses

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I was in charge of picking Playoff dark horses last year and did… pretty darn decent. After exempting myself from selecting Washington (who, obviously, made the Playoff) I selected Florida, winner of the SEC East, Louisville, who was in the hunt into November and UCL…. let’s just move on.

Here’s a look at who will be this year’s Washington, this year’s Louisville and, yes, probably this year’s UCLA.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are college football’s most consistent bet to be good and not great. That will likely be the case again this year, but Wisconsin’s schedule is tailor-made for a 2015 Iowa-like run. The Badgers get five of their first seven at home, and their next two games after that are road trips to Illinois and Indiana. After that, Iowa and Michigan come to Madison before the regular season finale at Minnesota. The Gophers should be better under P.J. Fleck than they were with Tracy Claeys, but Wisconsin owns a massive mental edge in this series with 13 straight wins. As long as Wisconsin wins two of its three games against Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa (and only the first is on the road, remember) they’ll be back in Indianapolis, where only an anything-can-happen 60 minutes will stand between Paul Chryst and a Playoff berth.

TCU: It seems every time we forget Gary Patterson is one of the very best coaches in the game, he reminds us in a big way. So let’s look back to the last two times Patterson finished under .500, and then what happened the year after. In 2004, TCU went 5-6. A year later the Frogs finished 11-1, won the Mountain West Conference in their first year in the league and closed the year with the first of Patterson’s top-10 final rankings. In 2013, TCU stumbled to a 4-8 mark and roared back to a 12-1 2014 season, narrowly missing the Playoff but ending the year at No. 3 in both polls. TCU went 6-7 in 2016, and return one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country in Kenny Hill. If quarterbacks coach and play-caller Sonny Cumbie can coax the bad plays out of time, TCU will be a factor yet again.

Notre Dame: Yes, yes, save your jokes. Notre Dame went 4-8 last season. Last year is over. Brian Kelly has refocused himself to the job, and helped himself out greatly by hiring Mike Elko to fix his defense, one of the absolute best hires of the offseason. Brandon Wimbush is a star in the making at quarterback, and the schedule is difficult without being impossible.

Colorado AD says Denver won’t be option for future CU-CSU games after 2020

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Colorado and Colorado State are scheduled to wrap up their current scheduling agreement in 2020, and the future of the in-state rivalry remains in question beyond that. Both schools are in talks to continue the series beyond 2020 once scheduling vacancies are available, but there is no target date currently in sight. What is known, however, is any such scheduling arrangement will not include games being played in Denver if Colorado’s athletics director has his say.

We won’t have any future games in Denver with CSU in any kind of new relationship,” Colorado athletic director Rick George said in a story published by The Daily Camera.  George did state he and his counterpart at Colorado State, Joe Parker, share an interest in keeping the series going on in the years beyond the current deal in place.

As it stands right now, Colorado State will host the final game in the current arrangement in 2020. No games will be possible in 2021 and 2022 because Colorado’s non-conference schedule is currently booked. The Buffs will face UMass, Texas A&M, and Minnesota in 2021 and TCU, Air Force, and Minnesota in 2022. Colorado currently has scheduling vacancies in 2023 and beyond, making 2023 the earliest possible year the series could be rekindled. The concern, at least for Colorado, will be overexerting the strength of schedule with games against TCU and Nebraska already lined up in 2023.

“With this College Football Playoff game now, there’s a lot of discussion on strength of schedules,” George said. “We certainly don’t want to over-schedule ourselves, but at the same time, we want to be in a position as we continue to compete on a yearly basis for championships, we want to be in the conversation. We don’t want the schedule to be a deterrent to us longer term.”

Geroge has previously expressed his interest in continuing the series if it could be agreed to play the games on campus sites instead of neutral fields. George has said it is not in Colorado’s best interest to continue the series. His latest statements about the strength of schedule keep in line with that logic. Having a potentially very good Group of Five program on top of previously announced games against power conference opponents in addition to a nine-game Pac-12 schedule becomes quite challenging. Having a less threatening opponent from the FCS provides a better chance to keep making money on a home game and increasing the chances for a win to rely on.

Colorado and Colorado State have faced off 88 times since 1893, with the Buffs holding a 64-22-2 edge in the all-time series. Colorado won last year’s meeting in Denver by a score of 44-7 for its most lopsided victory in the series since a 47-7 victory in Boulder in 1956. Colorado and Colorado State have played annually since 1995.