The Swami

Predictions 101 — Week 8

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Back to our winning ways, we went 7-5 in Week 7 vs. “the number.”

For the second week in a row, the only blemishes on our 10-2 straight-up mark were a couple of foolish reaches for upsets (Wake Forest over Virginia Tech, and Cal over USC).

If there’s gonna be an upset this week, it’ll be a doozy. The board is littered with ranked teams involved in contests with double-digit pointspreads, in some cases even against another ranked team. Our top game is one such matchup, but that “Clash of Champions” deserves attention … at least at the start.

After 84 games, we’re 54-26-2 (two games weren’t on the board) and 65-19.

TOP 10 GAMES (Thurs., Oct. 20 thru Sat., Oct. 22)

1) No. 19 Auburn at No. 1 LSU
Sat., Oct. 22 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

With all of LSU’s success it seems rather odd that the Tigers haven’t opened a season with eight consecutive victories since 1973.

Auburn (5-2, 3-1 in SEC), fresh off a win over Florida, intends on keeping it that way. The defending national champs did capture last year’s meeting, but that was at home on the Plains and Cam Newton, not Clint Moseley, was taking the snaps.

Moseley, a sophomore with only nine attempts under his belt, will be the third consecutive first-time starter that LSU (7-0, 4-0) will be facing. Florida’s Jacoby Brissett and Tennessee’s Matt Simms were treated rather rudely in a pair of losses (41-11 and 38-7, respectively) during the past two weeks.

LSU’s wicked defense will focus on Auburn running back Michael Dyer and dare Moseley to try is luck. That won’t turn out well, but Gene Chizik’s biggest problem is his inadequate defense matching up against LSU’s two-quarterback attack, hellbent on making up for last season’s rocky showing at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Opening point spread: LSU by 21

The pick: LSU 39-13

Final: LSU 45-10

2) No. 4 Wisconsin at No. 15 Michigan State
Sat., Oct. 22 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

This prediction comes courtesy of “Coach Hedanz” from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

Little brother demoralized big brother again, knocking Michigan from the unbeatens last week. Well-balanced Sparty is turning heads, and no offense meant towards any previous Michigan State opponent or even “Honey Badger” Tyrann Mathieu, but this Badger team is a whole different animal.

With the No. 1 scoring offense, a top-10 defense and this year’s answer to Cam Newton, look out no matter who you are. Nebraska will testify to the dominance of Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0 in Big Ten). The only chink in the Badger armor is that they are not yet road tested.

Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) owns the nation’s top-rated pass defense and is second in total defense. Last week, the Spartans held down the Michigan offense, keeping Shoelace Robinson in check. Balanced and talented, MSU is fully capable of protecting its house.

The problem, Wisconsin is balanced and more talented.

Michigan State will hold its own against the powerful Badgers for a while, but just like against Notre Dame, the Spartans will struggle to get points on the board and simply give too many opportunities to the Wisconsin offensive juggernaut led by Russell Wilson and Montee Ball.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 6 1/2

The pick: Wisconsin 45-17

Final: Michigan State 37-31

3) No. 22 Washington at No. 7 Stanford
Sat., Oct. 22 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Fed a steady diet of Pac-12 bottom feeders, the Cardinal are finally gonna be tested. Or will they?

Washington (5-1, 3-0 in Pac-12) travels to The Farm determined to make themselves famous at the expense of Stanford (6-0, 4-0), which has faced Arizona, UCLA, Colorado and Washington State, after opening with non-conference wins over San Jose State and Duke. One might consider this to be Stanford’s season opener.

Everyone knows what Andrew Luck is all about, so attention ought to shift over to Husky quarterback Keith Price, who has posted some Luck-esque numbers so far this season … 69 percent completion rate, 1,466 yards passing, 21 touchdown tosses and only four interceptions. (Luck’s line is 69%, 1,719, 18 and 3, and he hasn’t been sacked in the last four games.)

If running back Chris Polk can find a way to balance out the Washington attack, the Huskies will make the Cardinal work a full 60 minutes for this one.

Opening point spread: Final: Stanford by 19 1/2

The pick: Stanford 35-27

Final: Stanford 65-21

4) Tennessee at No. 2 Alabama
Sat., Oct. 22 — 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2

The “Third Saturday in October” will be the “Second Blowout in Two Weeks.”

That’s not a dig at Tennessee (3-3, 0-3 in SEC). That’s just how it goes when you play the top two teams in the country back-to-back. Ahhh … life in the SEC.

Alabama (7-0, 4-0) has a defense that the Carolina Panthers could use. The stats are downright silly. Seven points and 184 yards (38 rushing) allowed per game? C’mon …

Last week, the Crimson Tide allowed Mississippi to gain 72 yards on its first possession and then closed all roads for the Rebels, limiting them to just 69 yards for the remainder of the 52-7 cakewalk.

And then, you’ve got the Bama offense, led by tailback Trent Richardson, who will go over the 1,000-yard mark in the first quarter.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 27 1/2

The pick: Alabama 35-3

Final: Alabama 37-6

5) USC at Notre Dame
Sat., Oct. 22 — 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC

In the lengthy history of college football’s greatest intersectional rivalry, this is only the 10th time that both teams come into the annual throwdown unranked.

If Lane Kiffin is wondering why he’s the first USC coach to be 5-1 yet unranked, somebody needs to tell him that he lost his only game of significance so far this season, a 43-22 meltdown at Arizona State.

Notre Dame (4-2) was inexplicably victorious at the Coliseum last year, snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Trojans, as Irish backup quarterback Tommy Rees beat USC fill-in Mitch Mustain.

This year Rees and the rest of the Notre Dame squad is far more settled within the Brian Kelly regime.

Weak in the coaching department and continually bizarre on special teams, USC (5-1, 3-1 in Pac-12) is in prime position to get schooled by Kelly & Co.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 9

The pick: Notre Dame 34-23

Final: USC 31-17

6) North Carolina at No. 8 Clemson
Sat., Oct. 22 — noon ET, ESPN

This is a dangerous game for the Tigers. After rallying from a 35-17 deficit to post an emotional 56-45 victory at Maryland last Saturday, Clemson (7-0, 4-0 in ACC) is riding high and there’s talk of a table being run.

With all of that swirling around Death Valley, there could easily be a tendency to look past North Carolina (5-2, 1-2) and ahead to the crucial showdown with Georgia Tech that looms next week in Atlanta.

We envision Dabo Swinney having to do some extra chest-bumping in the second half to get his Tigers roaring.

Opening point spread: Clemson by 9 1/2

The pick: Clemson 31-24

Final: Clemson 59-38

7) Texas Tech at No. 3 Oklahoma
Sat., Oct. 22 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

The Red Raiders average 44 points and 372 passing yards per game, but unfortunately they also have yielded a total of 86 points in the last two outings, losses at home to No. 17 Texas A&M and No. 11 Kansas State.

As Texas Tech (4-2, 1-2 in Big 12) visits Norman for the second consecutive season, one of the few — very few — things that Tommy Tuberville has going for him is the fact that the Sooners have those same ranked teams next up. Perhaps they’ll be looking ahead to that crucial section of the schedule.

Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0) has 24 sacks so far this season, including 13 in the last two games. That’s got to have Red Raider quarterback Seth Doege and his offensive line on edge.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 28

The pick: Oklahoma 42-20

Final: Texas Tech 41-38

8 ) No. 11 West Virginia at Syracuse
Fri., Oct. 21 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Orange won’t be able to sneak up on the Mountaineers like they did last year in Morgantown. Besides the fact that it already happened, both teams had last weekend off to prepare for this one and the primetime spotlight has a way of adding intense focus.

Syracuse (4-2, 0-1 in Big East) is expected to welcome back defensive end Chandler Jones and strong safety Olando Fisher, who both missed the past five games due to injuries sustained in the opener. It’s doubtful that the reinforcements will be enough to plug the holes in a unit that ranks 112th in pass defense.

West Virginia (5-1, 1-0), which has scored 98 points in its last two games, will gladly take full advantage. Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith has been on a rampage as of late, passing for 1,539 yards in his last four games.

Opening point spread: West Virginia by 14

The pick: West Virginia 39-20

Final: Syracuse 49-23

9) Fresno State at Nevada
Sat., Oct. 22 — 4:05 p.m. ET, WAC Sports Network

We’re not sure this amounts to even half a hill of beans, but we see this game as the Western Athletic Conference championship. Both the Bulldogs and Wolf Pack have to face Hawaii down the stretch, but the Warriors don’t seem to have their usual fight this season. (Maybe none of these teams want to take the WAC title belt over to the MWC).

Nevada (3-3, 1-0 in WAC) has been busy pistol whipping UNLV and New Mexico at home by a combined score of 86-7 in the past two weeks, after opening the season with four consecutive road games.

The Wolf Pack, who won a 35-34 thriller last season, are averaging 249 yards per game on the ground. That’ll be a tough matchup for Fresno State (3-4, 2-0), which owns the 89th rushing defense in the nation.

These two teams are liable to play hot-potato with the football. The Bulldogs rank 104th in turnover margin and the Wolf Pack are even worse at 117th.

Opening point spread: Nevada by 8 1/2

The pick: Nevada 38-21

Final: Nevada 45-38

10) No. 6 Oklahoma State at Missouri
Sat., Oct. 22 — noon ET, FX

After back-to-back road victories over Texas and a lofty position in the initial BCS rankings, it’s perfectly natural for us to assume that the Cowboys are pleased with themselves and might not be completely focused on an opponent they’ve played (and beaten) only twice since 2005.

This matchup also represents the fourth time in the last five games that Oklahoma State (6-0, 3-0 in Big 12) is playing on the road. That has to catch up with the ‘Boys at some point.

Missouri (3-3, 1-2) tuned up for this one with a 52-17 victory over Iowa State last week. The five-TD margin of victory was the Tigers’ biggest since 2008.

We’re not suggesting that the Cowboys, who have won their last eight games on the road, will drop this one, but it won’t be business as usual.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma State by 6 1/2

The pick: Oklahoma State 28-26

Final: Oklahoma State 45-24

TWO MORE YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE

UCLA at Arizona
Thurs., Oct. 20 — 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

This prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif. Hopefully he knows as much about bad coaching in college football as he does good coaching in AYSO and thoroughbred horse racing.

An otherwise snoozer gains intrigue due to the revolving head coaching door at the midway point of the season. After Arizona (1-5, 0-4 in Pac-12) fired Mike Stoops last week and ex-UCLA head honcho Bob Toledo resigned at Tulane this week, some among the Bruin faithful are hopeful the saying “never two without three” holds true and head coach Rick Neuheisel (18-25 since taking over for Karl Dorrell) is shown the door much sooner than later.

It could happen after an embarrassing performance under the national TV spotlight against a Wildcat squad that has lost five in a row and eight straight in league play. Fittingly, Arizona’s last conference win came at the expense of UCLA (3-3, 2-1), who the Wildcats have defeated four straight times. That gives interim head coach Tim Kish a golden opportunity to post a win in his debut after 36 years as an assistant.

The Bruins have alternated wins and losses in their first six games and are coming off a less-than-inspiring 28-25 victory over Washington State at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 8. Now, it’s time to lose.

Opening point spread: Arizona by 3 1/2

The pick: Arizona 31-16

Final: Arizona 48-12

No. 12 Kansas State at Kansas
Sat., Oct. 22 — noon ET, FSN

There’s been more Sunflower Showdowns (109) than World Series (107), so that’s one reason to take notice when these in-state rivals butt heads.

Kansas State (6-0, 3-0 in Big 12) has scored on 19 of its last 21 trips into the red zone. That trend should continue smoothly against Kansas (2-4, 0-3), which is yielding more than 26 first downs per game and allowing opponents to convert on third down at an alarming rate of 52.5 percent (both stats represent rock-bottom in the Big 12).

The Jayhawks’ most dangerous threat is D.J. Beshears’ kickoff returns. He got a workout in last week’s not-so-embarrassing 47-17 loss to Oklahoma and responded with 155 return yards.

Opening point spread: Kansas State by 11 1/2

The pick: Kansas State 38-20

Final: Kansas State 59-21

Week 8 record: 8-4
Total: 73-23

NFL calls, Mich. St.’s Malik McDowell answers

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 02:  Malik McDowell #4 of the Michigan State Spartans works against Harrison Monk #71 of the Furman Paladins during the first half of a game at Spartan Stadium on September 2, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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When it comes to college players taking the early cannonball leap into the NFL draft pool, there will be at least a couple of surprises and/or headscratchers.  This one would be neither.

In a statement on his personal Twitter account as well as a press release through Michigan State, Malik McDowell confirmed that he will be foregoing his senior season in East Lansing in order to enter the 2017 NFL draft.  While describing it as “very difficult,” it’s been a decision that has been expected.

Despite missing the last three games this season with an injury, McDowell led all Spartans in tackles for loss with seven. The 6-6, 275-pound defensive lineman was named first-team All-Big Ten by The Associated Press and earned second-team honors from the league’s coaches and media.

In 36 career games (23 starts), McDowell has been credited with 24.5 for losses and 7.5 sacks.

He’s currently projected as a likely first-round pick in the draft.  Back in August, McDowell stated he wouldn’t leave early if he wasn’t projected as a top three selection.

“Malik McDowell is an extremely gifted player who has demonstrated the ability and mindset to succeed at the next level,” said MSU head coach Mark Dantonio in a statement. “His pre-draft numbers project him as a likely first-round selection. We are thankful for his contributions to the program that significantly impacted our recent success, culminating with last year’s Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. We wish him the best and are excited for the opportunity in the next chapter of his life as he pursues his dream to play in the NFL.”

Baylor announces hiring of Temple’s Matt Rhule

ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Matt Rhule of the Temple Owls is doused during the closing moments of the Owls 34-10 win over the Navy Midshipmen during the AAC Championship game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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When the college football world settled in for bed Monday night, it was Blake Anderson reportedly negotiating with Baylor to become its next head football coach.  Late the next morning, it’s Temple, not Arkansas State, that will be searching for its own new coach.

Following up on speculation that had been building through the past couple of hours, Matt Rhule has officially been hired by the scandal-plagued to be its permanent replacement for Art Briles.  Rhule will be officially introduced by the university at a Wednesday press conference.

“We could not be more excited to welcome Matt, Julie and their children to the Baylor Family,” a statement from athletic director Mack Rhoades began. “When we set out on our search for a new leader of our football program, we wanted a coach who shared our values, who had demonstrated success, who showed a true commitment to the overall student-athlete and who we believed could lead Baylor to a national championship. We found all of that and more in Matt and I know that he will be a perfect fit with the Baylor Family.”

Rhule just completed his fourth regular season as the head coach at Temple, which ended with the program’s first AAC championship ever and first conference title of any kind in nearly four decades.  The Owls’ 10 wins last season was just the second in school history; the 10 wins this season give them back-to-back double-digit wins for the first time ever.

In a coaching career that began in 1998, Rhule has held just one job west of the Mississippi River — at UCLA in 2001.  He’s never coached in the state of Texas, so he’ll need to fill his staff with assistants familiar with the area, particularly when it comes to recruiting.

“I am truly honored and humbled to join the Baylor Family,” said Rhule, a former Penn State linebacker, “and I can’t thank President [David] Garland and Mack Rhoades enough for this incredible opportunity. Baylor is a tremendous institution with a history of football success and I know the passion that so many have for the Bears will help bring the community together to reach even greater heights. I am excited to get started.”

It’s unclear if Rhule will coach the Owls in the Dec. 27 Military Bowl, although it’s thought he’ll be leaving his current program immediately.

Nebraska officially plucks assistant from Arizona

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 01: The mascot for the Nebraska Cornhuskers waits for the team before the contest against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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After a handful of days of reports and speculation, Mike Riley has officially made an addition to his Nebraska coaching staff at the expense of Arizona.

In a release, NU confirmed that Donté Williams has been hired to fill the opening on his staff. Williams will fill the void created by the departure of Bruce Read, who was fired as special teams coordinator shortly after the Cornhuskers’ regular-season finale.

“We are confident that Donté Williams will bring great energy and expertise to our defensive coaching staff,” Riley said in a statement. “He has the personality and demeanor that allows him to connect and relate to his players. He will also be a dynamic addition to our staff in terms of recruiting prospective student-athletes to the University of Nebraska.”

Williams’ addition will lead to shifts on the defensive side of Riley’s staff.

It’s expected that Williams will take over as NU’s cornerbacks coach. Corners coach Brian Stewart will shift his focus to safeties, while last year’s safeties coach, defensive coordinator Mark Banker, will focus solely on a defense that was 31st in scoring defense and 21st in total defense in the country this past season.

Adding Williams, though, centers largely on the 34-year-old’s recruiting prowess. In fact, he’s widely considered in the industry to be one of the top five recruiters on the West Coast.

“I am truly blessed that Coach Riley thought highly enough of me to join his staff here at the University of Nebraska,” Williams said. “Everything I have seen in Lincoln has completely raised my expectations of what I know we can accomplish here! I look forward to continuing the success of the Blackshirt defense under Coach Riley and the whole Big Red Family!”

Williams spent the 2016 season as the cornerbacks coach at Arizona. Prior to that, he was a secondary coach at San Jose State from 2013-15, the latter two years spent with the additional title of recruiting coordinator.

His first Power Five job came as a grad assistant at Washington in 2011-12.

Ex-Alabama QB Blake Barnett commits to Arizona State

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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After leaving the FBS level in September, a formerly highly-touted quarterback has confirmed he’ll be back next season.

On Twitter late Monday night, Blake Barnett announced that he has committed to continuing his collegiate playing career at Arizona State. The announcement comes a little over three months after Barnett left Alabama.

Because Barnett enrolled at a junior college almost immediately after transferring from Alabama, it’s thought that he’ll be eligible to play for Arizona State after the first month of the 2017 season. He’d then have two full seasons of eligibility remaining after next year.

In late September, reports began to surface that Barnett had decided to leave Alabama.  A short time later, and after Nick Saban expressed hope Barnett would stay, the program confirmed that Barnett had officially withdrawn from school.

Barnett, who started the opener against USC but held on to the job for just two series, was a five-star 2015 recruit who 247Sports.com rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the country.  The California high school product originally committed to Notre Dame in November of 2013 before decommitting from the Irish in June of the following year.

After leaving Alabama, Barnett had drawn the interest of, among others, Cal, Florida, Miami, Michigan State, Oregon, Texas A&M, UCLA and Washington