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

Jim McElwain hints at playing three quarterbacks vs. Michigan

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Considering his opponent won’t so much as release a simple roster, there’s no reason whatsoever for Florida head coach Jim McElwain to say anything of consequence.

Still, it sounds as if No. 17 Florida may play all three of its quarterbacks next Saturday against No. 11 Michigan (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

“You’re going to see a bunch of them in there playing. The three guys have done a really good job. Not naming a starter right now,” McElwain said. “I think that there’s some things that they all bring to the table that are really good. Now the key to us is putting them in those positions that play to their strengths.

“Will all of them play? I don’t know yet. Will a couple of them play? I don’t know yet. I know we will have somebody at the position. This is not — don’t read into this that we’re not happy where they’re at. It’s really more so the competition has really brought out some good things. It’s going to be … ultimately the guy the team moves with the best, the guys that create positive plays on third down and get the ball in the end zone [that we go with].”

The three of them, by the way, are graduate transfer Malik Zaire, junior Luke Del Rio and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks. In a world governed by the truism of “If you have two quarterbacks you don’t have any,” it’s not exactly a good sign that none of Zaire, Del Rio or Franks have separated themselves from the others.

Zaire showed flashes but was eventually benched at Notre Dame and just arrived on campus this summer. Del Rio, a 2-time transfer before arriving at Florida, was the Gators’ starter coming out of training camp last season but fought through injuries throughout the season. And Franks is a 6-foot-5 former 5-star recruit that many thought would have grabbed the job by the horns by now.

While every team turns over from one season to the next, Florida finished 105th nationally in yards per play last season while Michigan’s defense placed second. With top playmaker Antonio Callaway serving a suspension, Florida will look to put the ball in the hands of whomever can move it, even if three of them happen to play quarterback.

Tracy Claeys discusses protests that led to his firing from Minnesota

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Chances are you haven’t heard Tracy Claeys‘s name mentioned in a while. The former Minnesota interim-turned-full time head coach was let go in January and has not been picked up by a new staff in the months since.

But Minnesota released an outside report last week that defended the school’s decision to suspend 10 players amid a sexual assault investigation and pinned the subsequent team-wide threatened boycott of the Holiday Bowl on “weak leadership” of the coaching staff. The Gophers played and won that Holiday Bowl, but it wasn’t enough to save Claeys’s job.

On Wednesday, Claeys penned an essay in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that both defended his tenure as the Golden Gophers’ head coach and admitted mistakes in a saga that would have swallowed many a head coach’s career.

Last September, I suspended five players for a reported sexual assault. When law enforcement authorities the following month declined to file any charges, the university reinstated those players. At the time, I was congratulated by our athletic director for my handling of this issue and promised that I would remain the head football coach in 2017.

But university officials soon conducted their own inquiry and in December resuspended the five players and suspended five more — again, even though prosecutors had determined there was no basis for formal charges.

Members of our Football Leadership Group and others on the team felt strongly that administration officials had overstepped their authority and that the accused players were treated unfairly and denied protection under due process. To amplify their argument and shine light on what players felt was a flawed and unjust process by the university, the team voted to boycott the Holiday Bowl.

It was a decision that moved us directly into the national spotlight. Unfortunately, some misunderstood or misinterpreted the players’ decision to boycott the Holiday Bowl. They felt that our team and coaches were condoning or downplaying sexual misconduct or assault. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

In light of this new report, are there things I would have done differently? Certainly. First and foremost, I would have remained on campus with my team and coaches rather than attend a Holiday Bowl news conference in San Diego. I’m confident that my presence would have better directed the conversation with our players and that I could have steered them toward something other than a decision to boycott the game.

 I also would have refrained from using social media to state my support of the team’s decision. This was too complex and important an issue to address in a 140-character message. It generated more questions than it answered and likely created more problems than it solved.
Claeys was 11-8 in his one and a half seasons as Minnesota’s head coach, his first head coaching job. Assuming he does not get hired in the next week and a half, the 2017 season will be Claeys’s first out of the game since launching his career as a student trainer at Kansas in the early ’90’s.

Kirk Ferentz and wife donate $1 million to Iowa children’s hospital

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Kirk Ferentz may be the but of a bunch of contract-related jokes, but no one jokes about the man’s character.

And for good reason.

The University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital announced Wednesday that Kirk and his wife Mary have donated $1 million to create the Savvy Ferentz Program in Neonatal Research, which will aim to improve the survival rate for premature babies. The Ferentzes made the donation in honor of their granddaughter Savvy, who was born in 2014 at 22 weeks gestation.

“We knew Savvy was born too early,” Mary said in a statement. “We also knew they do extraordinary things at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital that would give her a fighting chance. We were thankful we had that.”

The Stead Family Children’s Hospital claims higher survival rates for infants born at 24- and 25-weeks than the average U.S. hospital, and the Ferentzes hope their donation will further increase those rates.

“The University of Iowa has long been a leader in neonatal research and in providing high-level patient care, particularly to this most vulnerable population,” Iowa pediatrics professor Dr. Jeffrey L. Segar said. “This gift from the Ferentzes will help us capitalize on our strengths, advance our research, and, most important, make an impact on the lives of many Iowa children and their families, now and far into the future. We are deeply grateful for their support.”

Kirk Ferentz will begin his 19th season as Iowa’s head coach next Saturday against Wyoming (noon ET, BTN).

Texas TE Andrew Beck now out for entire 2017 season

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As it turns out, it’s much worse than originally thought for one playing member of the Texas football program.

Nearly a week ago, Andrew Beck went down during practice with what was later diagnosed to be a broken foot.  At the time, it was thought that the tight end would miss anywhere from 6-8 weeks, which would’ve put him back, at the latest, early October.

Fast-forward to Wednesday, however, and the Longhorns announced that Beck will be sidelined for the entire 2017 season because of the injury.  The senior will undergo surgery at some point this week to repair the damage.  He’s already undergone two previous foot surgeries and sat out the spring because of issues in that area.

The good news is that Beck has yet to use his redshirt season, which means he could return in 2018 as a fifth-year senior.

Beck started 13 games the past two seasons, including three in 2016.  Last season, he caught four passes for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  Entering summer camp, he had been expected to be the Longhorns’ starter.

With Beck out, that onus will likely fall on Kendall Moore, a graduate transfer from Syracuse.