Predictions 101 — Week 10

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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

TWO MORE YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE

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

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.