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

SMU confirms hiring of Sonny Dykes as new head coach

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After a year away from the head-coaching game, Sonny Dykes is back in it.

Not long after reports had surfaced earlier Monday, SMU confirmed a short time ago that Dykes has been named as the football program’s new head football coach.  Dykes replaces Chad Morris, who left for the same job at Arkansas late last week.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be introduced as the Head Coach at SMU,” a lengthy statement from Dykes began. “This is home and this is a program I grew up watching. I watched Mustang legends compete and I could always see myself putting on that iconic pony. Today, I’m proud to do just that.

“Coach Morris did great things here and I am fortunate that I have been selected to take the foundation Chad and his staff put in place and take it to a new level. And, make no mistake – That is what we plan to do.”

Prior to 2017, Dykes had spent the previous seven seasons as a head coach — four at Cal (2013-16) and three at Louisiana Tech (2010-12).  After being fired by the former school, he was considered a candidate for the offensive coordinator position at Arizona State.  Family issues, however, made TCU a better fit as he spent this past season as an offensive analyst with the Horned Frogs.

A native of Texas who played college baseball for Texas Tech, Dykes has gone 41-45 as a head coach — 22-15 at Louisiana Tech, 19-30 at Cal.

In Morris’ third season at SMU, the 7-5 Mustangs are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2012.

Florida DL Taven Bryan declares for NFL Draft

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The Dan Mullen era has everyone excited in Gainesville, but one key contributor won’t stick around to see it.

Defensive lineman Taven Bryan announced Monday he will leave school to enter his name in the 2018 NFL Draft. According to the statement released on his Twitter account, it sounds as if he made his mind up during the Jim McElwain and Randy Shannon regimes and nearly returned upon Mullen’s arrival.

Bryan ranked fifth on the team with 40 tackles while also recording six TFL and four sacks, just half a sack off the team lead.

A native of Casper, Wyo., Bryan will attempt to become just the third Wyoming native to be among the ranks of active NFL players.

SMU reportedly tabs former Cal, La Tech head coach Sonny Dykes as new head coach

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Sonny Dykes will take over as SMU’s head coach, according to multiple reports. The move was first reported by FotballScoop on Monday morning, and since confirmed by ESPN and Sports Illustrated.

Dykes takes over for Chad Morris, who left last week to become the head coach at Arkansas.

Morris was hired to re-establish ties with the Texas high school community after the program flatlined under June Jones, and Dykes has a similar appeal as his predecessor. Like Morris, Dykes is a former Texas high school coach, though only briefly. (He spent one year as the running backs coach at Richardson Pearce High School in 1994.) But more importantly he’s a name that will resonate with Texas high school coaches as the son of the legendary Spike Dykes.

The younger Dykes served as an assistant at Navarro Junior College and Texas Tech before taking over as the head coach at Louisiana Tech, where he led the Bulldogs to a 22-15 mark with one WAC championship from 2010-12. That success led him to Cal, where he took the Golden Bears to one bowl game in four seasons.

He was let go after the 2016 season, and spent the 2017 campaign laying low nearby the Hilltop, as an offensive analyst at TCU.

Dykes will inherit a 7-5 SMU team that ranked eighth nationally in scoring offense and 113th in scoring defense. The Mustangs will meet Dykes’s former team Louisiana Tech in the inaugural Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Interim head coach Jeff Traylor garnered significant support inside the locker room to take over on a full-time basis, so it will be interesting to see if Dykes works to keep the former Texas high school coach on staff, perhaps in an offensive coordinator capacity.

Report: Former Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard named Cardinal offensive coordinator

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It can be argued Tavita Pritchard started the current era of Stanford football. Trailing 23-17 with 48 seconds left, it was Pritchard that hit Mark Bradford for a 10-yard touchdown to push the Cardinal past No. 2 USC for a 24-23 win in 2007, at the time the largest point-spread upset in college football history and kickstarting the Jim HarbaughDavid Shaw era that continues today.

And now it will be Pritchard’s job to keep the ball he first pushed way back when rolling.

According to Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, Pritchard will be named Stanford’s offensive coordinator.

Still only 30, Pritchard graduated from Stanford in 2009, but he never really left the Stanford football program. He volunteered with the coaching staff in 2010, began working with the Cardinal defense in 2011 and was promoted to the full-time coaching staff in 2013, working with the running backs.

Pritchard was moved to quarterbacks and wide receivers in 2014 and has remained there the past four seasons, but is now in line to take over the entire offense with offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren now the head coach at Rice.

Led by Doak Walker Award winner Bryce Love, Stanford concluded the regular season ranked 32nd in rushing, 61st in passing efficiency, 19th in yards per play and 39th in scoring at 32.0 points per game. The 13th-ranked and Pac-12 North champion Cardinal will meet No. 15 TCU in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 28 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).