The Swami

Predictions 101 — Week 10


Suddenly we’re the pick ‘em equivalent of Texas A&M.

In the first half of the 2011 season, we were 54-26-2 vs. “the number.” Ever since the second half started, we seem like a different team, going 9-15 in the last two weeks (4-8 in Week 9).

If not for our continued success in the “two more you shouldn’t ignore” realm, we’d have nothing to smile about. We’re 14-3 down there, so if you’re into that sort of stuff, you might want to just skip to the bottom where we have more freedom to peruse the board.

But, hey, it’s not like we’re out looking for work. After 108 games, we’re 63-41-2 (two games weren’t on the board), with a straight-up record of 80-28.

TOP 10 GAMES (Sat., Nov. 5)

1) No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama
Sat., Nov. 5 — 8 p.m. ET, CBS

With so much being said about this titanic battle between the Tigers and Tide, here’s an attempt to boil away their similarities and simplify their differences.

LSU (8-0, 5-0 in SEC) is the superior team along all the edges.

Alabama (8-0, 5-0) is tougher through the middle and across the lines.

Even when matching up those strengths against each other, it seems like a draw.

Nevertheless, the thinking here is that Tiger cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne have a significant advantage in their chess match with Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron, who doesn’t have the luxury of a “Julio Jones” at wideout. LSU won’t need to offer either of those elite corners much help over the top with a safety. Those guys will be focused on the action in the box, if not already in there.

That’ll make it tougher on Alabama to gain the yards necessary on first down to stay out of predictable down-and-distance situations, that will allow the LSU to turn up the heat.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have Rueben Randle, who can expertly stretch the field from his wide receiver position, and the mischievous nature of Les Miles. Those two men will at some point generate a key set of yards that’ll provide the turning point.

Believe it or not, the visitor in this series is 27-13-1. The home team has captured the last two meetings, but the hosts have never taken three in a row.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 6

The pick: LSU 19-17

Final: LSU 9-6, OT

2) No. 10 South Carolina at No. 8 Arkansas
Sat., Nov. 5 — 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

It’s not a total surprise to have a pair of top-10 battles featuring SEC squads in the same week, but to see Arkansas and South Carolina involved is rather unexpected. Last year’s tilt between the Razorbacks and No. 1 Alabama was the first top-10 battle in Fayetteville since 1979 and the Gamecocks haven’t been involved in a contest between top-10 teams since the 1987 Gator Bowl when they were defeated by LSU.

Both teams have been prone to slow starts, with Arkansas (7-1, 3-1 in SEC) posting a trio of double-digit comebacks this season and South Carolina (7-1, 5-1) allowing the opposition to score first in each of their eight games this year and the last 11 overall. The similarities stop there.

With a pair of young replacements in the backfield who have led the offense to just 14 points in each of the last two weeks, the Gamecocks have relied on the nation’s top-ranked pass defense to walk away victorious in each of those road contests.

The Hog passing attack (321 yards per game, ninth in the nation), led by junior quarterback Tyler Wilson, has helped the offense put up at least 38 points in each of its five home victories. Efficiency is the key, as Wilson has not thrown an interception in his last 176 attempts, spanning 18 quarters, while having four of the top-10 receivers in Razorback history at his disposal.

Additionally, Arkansas ranks second nationally with three kick returns for scores and its ball-hawking defense has snagged an interception in each of the last four games.

It all adds up to Razorback Stadium hosting its sixth consecutive Homecoming victory and the Gamecocks falling for the third straight time there to snap a six-game road winning streak.

Opening point spread: Arkansas by 5

The pick: Arkansas 33-17

Final: Arkansas 44-28

3) No. 17 Kansas State at No. 3 Oklahoma State
Sat., Nov. 5 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

Three is the loneliest number in the BCS. To the top two go the spoils. The team slotted third — where the Cowboys currently find themselves — is left to wonder what might have been (and complain about the system along with the rest of us).

Since No. 1 and No. 2 are going to butt heads on Saturday, Oklahoma State (8-0, 5-0 in Big 12) is a virtual lock to move into the “championship game zone” if it can get past visiting Kansas State (7-1, 4-1).

The Wildcats had their bubble burst last week by Oklahoma, which rolled up 690 total yards against K-State in a 58-17 rout. They’ll have their hands equally full with the Cowboys, who have a wicked offense led by quarterback Brandon Weeden, with assistance from running back Joseph Randle and wideout Justin Blackmon.

Oklahoma State’s defense doesn’t get the highlight coverage, but it’s dangerous as well, leading the nation with 29 takeaways, which supports a national-best turnover margin of +2.38.

After bottling up Baylor, 59-24, there’s no reason to think that the Cowboys won’t do something similar to the ‘Cats.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma State by 21

The pick: Oklahoma State 52-27

Final: Oklahoma State 52-45

4) Texas A&M at No. 7 Oklahoma
Sat., Nov. 5 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

The Sooners might want to let the Aggies run out to an early lead.  All three of Texas A&M’s losses this season (including last week’s 38-31 loss to Missouri, which P101 correctly tabbed to require overtime) have been of the come-from-ahead variety, leading by a combined 46 points at halftime.

A more likely scenario involves Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1 in Big 12) leaning on quarterback Landry Jones even more than usual with the absence of tailback Dominique Whaley (fractured ankle) to shred the porous Aggie pass defense (dead last in the nation).

Texas A&M (5-3, 3-2) beat the Sooners last year in College Station, but have historically performed poorly in Norman, where the Sooners will be focused on starting a new home winning streak.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 13 1/2

The pick: Oklahoma 42-31

Final: Oklahoma 41-25

5) No. 6 Oregon at Washington
Sat., Nov. 5 — 10:30 p.m. ET, FSN

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

Most of the country looks at Stanford and Oregon as the clear elite teams in the Pac-12 North, but we don’t want to overlook the Huskies. They got taken to the woodshed by Stanford on “The Farm,” 65-21, but get to host the Ducks in an emotional home game that’ll be the last played at the current Husky Stadium.

The key for Washington (6-2, 4-1 in Pac-12) is running back Chris Polk (1,016 yards on the ground), who has been showing that he is the one with “BEAST MODE” in town. Only Cal has held him under 100 yards rushing this year. He provides the balance the Huskies needs for quarterback Keith Price to be successful. But, Oregon (7-1, 5-0) has the talent in the secondary (No. 8 in pass efficiency defense) to focus on slowing Polk down.

On the other side of the field, Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt now has to be prepared for multiple offensive units. Any combination of Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas and Bryan Bennett can be in the Oregon backfield, all bringing something a little different to the table.

The rust will be dusted off and the Ducks will be in “BEAST MODE” to make sure they leave UW with the W.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 15

The pick: Oregon 45-34

Final: Oregon 34-17

6) No. 23 Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
Sat., Nov. 5 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU

There’s a vast difference between how these two teams spent last week.

Cincinnati (6-1, 2-0) rested up and crafted its plan to stay undefeated in Big East play.

Pittsburgh (4-4, 2-1) was fully engaged in a 35-20 victory over Connecticut, which came at a supreme price as superstar running back Ray Graham tore ligaments in his right knee on the fourth play of the game. With Graham on the shelf, the Panthers turned to uneven quarterback Tino Sunseri and he responded beautifully with a 29-of-42 outing that resulted in 419 passing yards.

Sunseri also accounted for three touchdowns against the Huskies, but don’t count on him having that same type of night against the Bearcats, who have the type of defense that will easily stonewall the Graham-less running game and focus on making life miserable for the Panther triggerman.

Opening point spread: Cincinnati by 2 1/2

The pick: Cincinnati 34-23

Final: Cincinnati 26-23

7) Texas Tech at Texas
Sat., Nov. 5 — noon ET, FX

The Red Raiders are a picky bunch. They only pay attention to big fish. Iowa State? Nah, let them go.

Texas Tech (5-3, 2-3 in Big 12) is only interested in bagging trophies like Oklahoma.

Although Texas (5-2, 2-2) isn’t on the Sooner scale this season, its big brand name means the Red Raiders will be there for a full fight.

Opening point spread: Texas by 10

The pick: Texas 31-28

Final: Texas 52-20

8) No. 4 Stanford at Oregon State
Sat., Nov. 5 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

The Beavers specialize in traps like this.

While we doubt that the Cardinal, who can turn on the brute strength and turn to Andrew Luck, are going to get toppled, it would be foolish to not think that there will be a letdown between the emotionally draining three-overtime victory at USC and next week’s showdown versus Oregon.

The Trojans know all about scenarios like this. In 2008, top-ranked USC, fresh off a huge victory over No. 5 Ohio State, got bushwhacked by the Beavers, who were a 25-point underdog.

Granted, Oregon State (2-6, 2-3 in Pac-12) isn’t as talented as that squad three years ago, but it is speedy enough to take advantage of some of the weaknesses that Stanford (8-0, 6-0) exhibited last Saturday at the Coliseum.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 20 1/2

The pick: Stanford 42-27

Final: Stanford 38-13

9) Notre Dame at Wake Forest
Sat., Nov. 5 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

November is here and Irish eyes are smiling.

Last season, Notre Dame (5-3) was 3-0 in November, extending Brian Kelly’s personal 11-game winning streak during the month, which extends back to his days at Cincinnati.

The Irish begin this month’s three-game ACC test drive at Wake Forest (5-3, 4-2) and should go 3-0 before getting crushed at Stanford on Nov. 26.

The Demon Deacons are not well at this point in the season, having just committed five turnovers en route to a 49-24 loss at North Carolina. That sort of thing should sound all too familiar to the Irish.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 13 1/2

The pick: Notre Dame 31-27

Final: Notre Dame 24-17

10) Army at Air Force
Sat., Nov. 5 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

The Black Knights got a lift from backup quarterback Max Jenkins in last week’s 55-0 drubbing of Fordham. Subbing for an injured Trent Steelman, who had started the previous 32 games, Jenkins rushed for a pair of scores while triggering an attack that rolled up 514 rushing yards.

Considering the Falcons’ familiarity with this sort of attack, Army (3-5) might need a little more than the 30 yards of passing offense that Jenkins provided against the Rams.

Air Force (4-4, 1-3 in MWC) had a similar afternoon last week as Conner Dietz came on in relief of an injured Tim Jefferson and piloted a 42-0 victory at New Mexico.

We’ll have to side with a fired up Falcon squad playing at home with the chance to clinch their second consecutive Commander-in-Chief Trophy with a victory.

Opening point spread: Air Force by 15

The pick: Air Force 34-13

Final: Air Force 24-14


Louisville at No. 24 West Virginia
Sat., Nov. 5 — Noon ET

The Mountaineers and Cardinals have played the same teams — Syracuse and Rutgers — in their last two games.

West Virginia (6-2, 2-1 in Big East) got stunned by the Orange, 49-23, and then struggled mightily against Rutgers before pulling out a 41-31 victory (much to P101’s chagrin).

Louisville (4-4, 2-1), on the other hand, turned around what was a 2-4 season with back-to-back wins over Rutgers (16-14) and Syracuse (27-10).

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re riding with the Cardinals here, especially in Morgantown, but we like what their freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has cooking and the defense has a strong backbone.

Opening point spread: West Virginia by 12 1/2

The pick: West Virginia 24-20

Final: Louisville 38-35

Purdue at No. 19 Wisconsin
Sat., Nov. 5 — 3:30 p.m. ET

Who would have thought two weeks ago — or ever — that the Badgers and Boilermakers would be tied in the standings of the Leaders Division at this point in the season.

There are now two things that we know about Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2 in Big Ten). First of all, if a game comes down to defending against a desperation pass, the Badgers are in deep trouble. Secondly, they are not the same team away from Madison.

That’s not good news for Purdue (4-4, 2-2), which is fresh off a sound 36-14 whipping at the hands of Michigan in Ann Arbor and has lost its last 13 road games against ranked opponents.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 26 1/2

The pick: Wisconsin 42-10

Final: Wisconsin 62-17

Week 10 record: 11-1
Total: 91-29

Georgia reportedly hires Kirby Smart as head coach

Kirby Smart

Sometimes the rumors really are true.

Seemingly since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, the worst-kept secret in college football was that Kirby Smart wouldn’t jump from Nick Saban‘s perch until the Georgia job opened.

And now, one day after Mark Richt said goodbye in Athens, multiple reports say that’s exactly what will happen – Smart will be the next Bulldogs coach.

Outside of Houston’s Tom Herman, Smart was the only target UGA athletics director Greg McGarity truly targeted and, barring a major turn of events between now and the SEC championship, he’ll have landed him.

Hailing from Bainbridge, Ga., Smart played safety for Georgia from 1995-98, then returned in 2005 as running backs coach. In between he made stops at Valdosta State, Florida State, LSU, the Miami Dolphins and, finally, Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide to three national titles and never produced a defense ranked lower than 18th nationally in yards per play defense.

This year’s Crimson Tide defense ranks second nationally heading into an SEC title game date with Florida. If, as expected, Alabama wins and, as expected, Smart is introduced as Georgia’s next coach, he’ll likely pull a move much like Herman last year and work double-duty through Alabama’s run in the College Football Playoff.

What sort of program will Smart run? Other than the Process-based enterprise seemingly microchip implanted into the brain of every Saban aide, it’s hard to say. Smart only spoke to the media three times annually.

But here’s one guarantee: he’ll need to nail his offensive coordinator hire. Saban’s former offensive coordinators — Jimbo Fisher and Jim McElwain — have thrived, while his most prominent defensive coordinator-turned-head coach protege — Will Muschamp — failed mightily at Florida because he could never conquer the other side of the ball.

Smart will be expected to win, win big, and win quickly. You don’t fire a coach with 145 wins in 15 years and 19 victories in the last two for any other reason.

Why Steve Spurrier retired, as told by Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier

When Steve Spurrier abruptly retired in October, most stopped to reminisce about a true college football original’s career come to a sudden, but not unexpected end. But others pointed out that Spurrier essentially quit on his team in the middle of a tough season. It was an easy take and, hey, it’s not like the Old Ball Coach himself wouldn’t have said something if Mark Richt had done something similar.

In a letter provided to The State, Spurrier reasoned his retirement truly was better for the team, that the team played better without him around and that his presence would’ve generated speculation that would have suffocated the rest of the season.

Considering the Gamecocks lost to The Citadel, one has every reason to doubt that claim. But it’s the one Spurrier is going with.

The letter in full:

In the last few years when asked how much longer I plan to coach, I have said often that if our team is going in the wrong direction I need to resign and allow someone else to take over as head coach here. After six games, we were 2-4 with two blow-outs by Georgia and LSU. We were behind at halftime against UCF (a team that went 0-12 this year). We were definitely going in the wrong direction. I felt that I was doing a lousy job as head coach and a change would help our team become more competitive.

I told our team after I resigned that they needed new leadership, new enthusiasm and a new plan. By stepping aside, this allowed Shawn Elliott the opportunity to change our direction, change our attitude, and hopefully, he could be named head coach after the season. If this happens, some of our assistant coaches would be retained, and this was a major reason for me to get out of the way. Also, by resigning, I forfeited the buyout clause in my contract that saved our university three million dollars.

I certainly believe, as the media has said, that our team played better after I resigned. Shawn Elliott did an excellent job getting this team prepared to play with enthusiasm and effort the rest of our season. Unfortunately, the close games turned into close losses.

When I mentioned I may coach again, I meant possibly as a volunteer coach at a high school. After thirty years as a head coach, I positively know that my head coaching career is finished.

I understand the critics have asked why I didn’t announce I was retiring at the end of the season, as some other coaches have done. I felt that if I had done this, I would have been a distraction throughout the remainder of the season about my last game everywhere I went. I did not want a “Spurrier Farewell Tour.” The players deserve to be the story of each game. Also, it would have prevented Shawn Elliott, a coach that has loved the South Carolina Gamecocks his whole life, from getting the shot to be the interim head coach, with the possibility of becoming the Head Coach here.

When a coach gets fired, the change is often good and helpful to the team. Miami was 4-3 when Al Golden was fired, and the interim head coach went 4-1. Randy Edsall was 2-4 at Maryland when fired and his replacement got the team playing better. Clay Helton, the interim coach at the other USC, was recently named head coach as they went 5-2 under his watch.

Our university was not going to fire me, so I thought it was best for our team that I basically fire myself by resigning. The players have enjoyed playing for Coach Elliott and again the media has said the team has performed better after I resigned.

Thanks to all Gamecocks for allowing me to be your coach for over ten years. My wife Jerri and I will always be thankful and appreciative to the University of South Carolina for this opportunity.


Steve Spurrier

Top four remains same in penultimate College Football Playoff rankings

Bob Stoops

The penultimate College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night and the top four remained the same from last week. Michigan State sits at fifth, meaning Saturday’s Big Ten Championship is officially a national quarterfinal.

Stanford, heading into this week’s Pac-12 Championship, checked in at No. 7, while party-crasher-to-be North Carolina jumped from No. 14 to No. 10.

Ohio State checks in at No. 6, but Stanford seems primed to pass the Buckeyes with a win over No. 20 USC. Getting into the top four, however, would require a loss by No. 1 Clemson or No. 2 Alabama. No. 3 Oklahoma is seemingly in the playoff with a completed 11-1 regular season.

TCU moved one spot ahead of Baylor after a rain-soaked double overtime win over the Bears on Friday night.

Houston, USC and LSU moved back into the rankings, while Tennessee joined the party for the first time this year.

Tuesday night’s release was the final dress rehearsal of the 2015 season; the next time we hear from the CFP selection committee will be to announce the four semifinal selections.

But while these are the second-to-last set of rankings, we can ask 2014 TCU about how much they ultimately mean.

The full rankings:

1. Clemson
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Iowa
5. Michigan State
6. Ohio State
7. Stanford
8. Notre Dame
9. Florida State
10. North Carolina
11. TCU
12. Baylor
13. Ole Miss
14. Northwestern
15. Michigan
16. Oregon
17. Oklahoma State
18. Florida
19. Houston
20. USC
21. LSU
22. Temple
23. Navy
24. Utah
25. Tennessee

Dabo Swinney wins ACC Coach of the Year award

Dabo Swinney

When you go undefeated, people tend to give you awards.

In the wake of Clemson’s first perfect regular season, its first since 1981, head coach and pizza party patron Dabo Swinney was named the ACC’s top coach on Tuesday.

Swinney received 27 of the 50 available votes, edging North Carolina’s Larry Fedora (21). Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi each gobbled up one of the two remaining votes.

Aaron Brenner of the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier notes Swinney is due a $25,000 bonus for winning the award.