Predictions 101 — Week 9

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It was bound to happen. No, not Oklahoma finally losing in Norman. P101 having a losing week.

For the first time all season, we were sub .500 vs. “the number,” going 5-7 in Week 8. With all that heavy lumber littering last week’s board, we just couldn’t seem to end up on the right side.

Despite a historic Hail Mary and Dayne Crist’s inability to take a snap, we still posted a 8-4 straight-up mark.

After 96 games, we’re 59-33-2 (two games weren’t on the board) and 73-23.

TOP 10 GAMES (Thurs., Oct. 27 thru Sat., Oct. 29)

1) No. 6 Clemson at Georgia Tech
Sat., Oct. 29 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

It’ll be interesting to see how the Tigers handle being up on the pedestal. It’s one thing for young players and coaches to climb, but an entirely different challenge to stay.

Clemson (8-0, 5-0 in ACC), which is now ranked fifth in the BCS standings, hasn’t opened a season with nine consecutive victories since its 1981 national championship team rolled all the way to 12-0. Pretty lofty stuff all the way around.

After a pair of disappointing losses at Virginia and Miami, Georgia Tech (6-2, 3-2) is happy to be back at home, hosting an opponent that offers the opportunity to have some of its swagger stolen.

The Yellow Jackets have won six of their last eight meetings with the Tigers, who didn’t look particularly sharp in their previous road game, needing to embark on a torrid comeback to beat Maryland, 56-45.

Opening point spread: Clemson by 4 1/2

The pick: Georgia Tech 32-31

Final: Georgia Tech 31-17

2) No. 11 Oklahoma at No. 10 Kansas State
Sat., Oct. 29 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

After last Saturday’s debacle in Norman, the Sooners are jumping at the opportunity to get out of town and escape to the seclusion of the Little Apple.

Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1 in Big 12) clearly showed in its shocking 41-38 loss to Texas Tech that it can be hurt through the air. Unfortunately for Kansas State (7-0, 4-0), Collin Klein isn’t the sort of quarterback who can take advantage. He rushed for four touchdowns in last week’s 59-21 victory over Kansas and is more of a dual-threat type.

Although its passing component ranks last in the Big 12 and 110th in the nation, the Wildcats’ ball-control offense has a shot to limit Sooner possessions, but can’t be expected to match scores. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has already passed for 2,589 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, and should eventually wear down the hosts.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 13 1/2

The pick: Oklahoma 31-21

Final: Oklahoma 58-17

3) No. 9 Michigan State at No. 13 Nebraska
Sat., Oct. 29 — noon ET, ESPN

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai’i.

Sparty won an incredible game last Saturday on a Hail Mary and controls its own destiny in the Legends Division and could possibly earn a rematch versus Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0 in Big Ten) is the country’s darling right now.

Nebraska (6-1, 2-1) wants some love too. The Cornhuskers also control their own Legends destiny and have Michigan State right where they want them … in Lincoln, following an emotional game and likely tired from a brutal stretch.

The Spartans, who have had to deal with Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin already this month, are not the same team on the road, where miracles are hard to come by. Don’t forget about the 31-13 decision they dropped to less-than-impressive Notre Dame.

William Gholston is returning to Michigan State after a suspension. This beast of a defensive end will get optioned by Nebraska as the Huskers go “old school” and stick to its strength at home, the run game.

The Nebraska running attack will open things up for the occasional shot down the field. Although Taylor Martinez is no Andrew Luck, the Spartans will be so focused on stopping the run that Husker wideouts will be wide open for a couple big plays.

Opening point spread: Nebraska by 3 1/2

The pick: Nebraska 27-24

Final: Nebraska 24-3

4) Baylor at No. 3 Oklahoma State
Sat., Oct. 29 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

The arrival of Robert Griffin III in Stillwater should garner lots of attention, but it’ll still be a challenge for the Cowboys to concentrate on the now.

Being slotted third in the BCS standings is more than enough to weigh on the mind of a team, but that gets even heavier when the top two teams have a date to lock horns next week. Furthermore, Oklahoma State (7-0, 4-0 in Big 12) has a humongous game of its own next week as it hosts Kansas State (currently undefeated at 7-0).

Baylor (4-2, 1-2) has dropped both of its road games this season, including its most recent outing, a 55-28 loss at Texas A&M in which the Bears surrendered 681 total yards. Yikes.

Both defenses allow more than 425 yards and 26.7 points per game. Combine that with the offensive weaponry on both squads and we will be looking at a total somewhere north of 80.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma St. by 15

The pick: Oklahoma State 52-34

Final: Oklahoma State 59-24

5) No. 4 Stanford at No. 20 USC
Sat., Oct. 29 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

What’s with the ‘World Wide Leader?’ We’ve got this matchup ranked in the middle of the road, but ‘College GameDay’ is caravanning out to the Coliseum. Besides Desmond really wanting to go purse shopping on Rodeo Drive, we don’t get it.

Stanford (7-0, 5-0 in Pac-12) plays the kind of football that USC (6-1, 3-1) was synonymous with for decades — physical on both sides of the line, balanced on offense, unrelenting on defense. The Cardinal are simply machine-like in their destruction of the opposition, winning their last 10 games by at least 26 points. Last week, they rushed for a school-record 446 yards in a 65-21 victory over Washington.

Don’t get fooled into thinking that playing at the Coliseum benefits the Trojans. Incredibly, Stanford has won four of its last six games on USC’s home turf. And remember that this year’s Trojans were gracious hosts to Minnesota (two-point win), Utah (17-14, before score magically changed) and Arizona (surrendered 41 points).

Opening point spread: Stanford by 9 1/2

The pick: Stanford 37-21

Final: Stanford 56-48, 3OT

6) No. 22 Georgia vs. Florida (at Jacksonville, Fla.)
Sat., Oct. 29 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Ever since John Brantley injured his ankle against Alabama on Oct. 1, the Gators haven’t tasted victory. The senior quarterback should be back in the saddle on Saturday, giving Florida (4-3, 2-3 in SEC) a good shot at avoiding a four-game losing streak, which would be its longest since 1988.

Georgia (5-2, 4-1), however, is intent on winning its sixth game in a row and turning things around against the Gators, who have won the last three games in the series and 18 of the last 21.

The Bulldogs still have a lot to prove. Their four SEC wins have come against teams with a combined conference record of 1-15, which is truly horrific since the lone victory among that group came at the expense of a member (Vandy over Ole Miss).

Having a pair of key defenders — lineman Kwame Geathers and safety Shawn Williams — suspended for the first half doesn’t help.

Opening point spread: Georgia by 1

The pick: Florida 24-21

Final: Georgia 24-20

7) Navy at Notre Dame
Sat., Oct. 29 — 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Under normal circumstances — meaning no five-game losing streak for a team that’s been to eight consecutive bowl games — nothing this side of Army means more to the Midshipmen than butting heads with the Fighting Irish.

This season, with a bowl game in jeopardy and a loss to Air Force having already dented Commander-in-Chief Trophy hopes, Navy (2-5) has an ultra-intense focus on Notre Dame (4-3).

Conversely, the Irish are candidates to play this one scared. Having already lost three of its last four to the Middies, there’s lots of pressure on Notre Dame, which self-destructed last Saturday in a 31-17 loss to USC. Not only did the Irish give away the football three times in the second half, they also demonstrated a stunning inability to stop the run.

“I’m not going to tolerate it,” Brian Kelly said, after the loss to the Trojans. “It’s not going to be pretty this week in practice. If we gotta go back and tackle every day, we’ll tackle every day.”

Maybe that’ll help, but if USC can rush for 219 yards at Notre Dame, working with a previously maligned offensive line, what will the triple-option Midshipmen, who average 325 rushing yards per game and 5.7 per carry, do to the Irish?

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 20

The pick: Notre Dame 38-31

Final: Notre Dame 56-14

8) No. 12 Wisconsin at Ohio State
Sat., Oct. 29 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The damage has been done. Michigan State’s Hail Mary was answered. The Badgers just can’t let that play beat them for a second time. Carrying any sort of woe-is-me hangover into another road game would be a disaster for Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1 in Big Ten), which needs this one to stay on course to winning the Leaders Division.

Ohio State (4-3, 1-2) doesn’t have anything even remotely resembling the passing attack that Michigan State used last Saturday to beat the Badgers. Buckeye freshman quarterback Braxton Miller hasn’t completed more than five passes or thrown for more than 95 yards in any game since the opener. That’s a far cry from Spartan veteran Kirk Cousins, who went 22-of-31 for 290 yards and three touchdowns to get it done last week versus Wisconsin.

We trust that Bret Bielema will make sure the Badgers bounce back strong.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 7 1/2

The pick: Wisconsin 31-13

Final: Ohio State 33-29

9) No. 25 West Virginia at Rutgers
Sat., Oct. 29 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Last year, the Mountaineers were two-touchdown favorites over Syracuse and dropped a 19-14 decision.

Last week, West Virginia (5-2, 1-1 in Big East) was a 14-point favorite over the Orange and it happened again … only worse. This time, the Mounties got pummeled, 49-23.

If you’re expecting Rutgers (5-2, 2-1) to feel the brunt of a let’s-bounce-back-and-get-this-right effort from West Virginia, please remember that the Mountaineers followed up last season’s loss to Syracuse by getting upset by Connecticut in overtime, 16-13.

After getting picked off twice and sacked four times versus the Orange, WVU QB Geno Smith will have his hands full with a Scarlet Knight pass rush that ranks first in the Big East with 24 sacks on the season.

Opening point spread: West Virginia by 5 1/2

The pick: Rutgers 24-23

Final: West Virginia 41-31

10) No. 14 South Carolina at Tennessee
Sat., Oct. 29 — 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2

This prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif.

The future is now for a pair of teams in the midst of opposite campaigns.

Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 in SEC) turns to true freshman quarterback Justin Worley, last year’s Gatorade National Player of the Year, who gets thrown into the fire in his first collegiate start as the top-ranked and well-rested South Carolina (6-1, 4-1) pass defense travels to Knoxville.

With all-everything tailback Marcus Lattimore lost for the season due to a knee injury, the Gamecocks’ hopes of remaining atop the SEC East standings rest with sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw, who is likely to struggle as he did two weeks ago against Mississippi State since his ground attack becomes much easier to contain with freshman Brandon Wilds carrying the load.

The Vols, who came up empty through the first four games of their SEC gauntlet, have beaten South Carolina in all but one of its last 15 trips to Neyland Stadium.

Opening point spread: South Carolina by 3 1/2

The pick: Tennessee 23-17

Final: South Caroliona 14-3

TWO MORE YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE

Rice at No. 18 Houston
Thurs., Oct. 27 — 8 p.m. ET, FSN

The Cougars have one more Thursday night game to consider watching (Nov. 10 at Tulane), but this “Bayou Bucket” matchup is sure to be something else with the nation’s No. 1 squad in terms of total offense hosting a team that ranks 115th in total defense. Let the fun begin!

Led by record-setting quarterback Case Keenum, who has accounted for 17,173 yards of total offense and 150 touchdowns in his collegiate career, Houston (7-0, 3-0) has scored a total of 224 points in its last four games.

Rice (2-5, 1-3), on the other hand, has scored more than 28 points just once this season and that was in a 56-31 loss at Baylor on Sept. 24.

The last time the Owls made the six-mile trek across town to Robertson Stadium, they got eviscerated, 73-14. The fact that Rice upset Houston last year, 34-31, doesn’t help the Owls’ chances.

The price might seem steep, but we feel it’s a bargain.

Opening point spread: Houston by 25 1/2

The pick: Houston 56-23

Final: Houston 73-34

Missouri at No. 16 Texas A&M
Sat., Oct. 29 — Noon ET, FX

This soon-to-be-SEC matchup isn’t quite Alabama-LSU, but it will be intriguing.

Missouri (3-4, 1-3 in Big 12) ran out of gas and into turnovers in last Saturday’s attempted upset of Oklahoma State. If the Tigers can be less generous, their balanced attack, which averages 238 yards on the ground (tops in the league) and 253 through the air, could give Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1) all sorts of problems.

The Aggies, who rank dead last in the nation in pass defense, also might have a distracted eye on next week’s trip to Norman.

We wouldn’t be surprised if overtime were required.

Opening point spread: Texas A&M by 15

The pick: Texas A&M 35-28

Final: Missouri 38-31, OT

Week 9 record: 7-5
Total: 80-28

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas to give Todd Orlando raise to $1.7 million per year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: ‘Resource issues in ACC vs. SEC’

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.

UCF’s Shaquem Griffin wins inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award

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UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.

That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.

Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.

The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.