Predictions 101 — Week 12

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After that fast start, we’ve been “bowl eligible” for a while now, but our fans are getting restless due to recent mediocrity.

We went 5-6-1 vs. “the number” in Week 11 and that clearly isn’t up to the standards we set around here. A 10-2 straight-up mark ain’t too shabby, but we’re looking for a strong finishing kick.

After 132 games, we’re 74-53-3 (two games weren’t on the board) and 101-31 straight.

TOP 10 GAMES (Thurs., Nov. 17 thru Sat., Nov. 19)

1) No. 18 USC at No. 4 Oregon
Sat., Nov. 19 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

All the pressure is on the Ducks. Every trend points to them and so do most of the matchups. A two-touchdown favorite, Oregon is supposed to win comfortably. Saddled with probation, the Trojans have far less to gain or lose.

When a game shapes up like this, normally we start to envision the unexpected. However, Oregon (9-1, 7-0 in Pac-12) could be the least uptight team in the nation. The Ducks simply march along at their own ultra-rapid pace and seem to get the job done with relative ease, particularly against USC (8-2, 5-2) in recent years.

Oregon has totaled 100 points in its last two games against the Trojans, coasting to a pair of victories. Duck running back LaMichael James enjoys playing against USC more than any other team. The junior has rushed for 422 yards and four scores in those two previous outings versus Tailback U.

For the past couple games, USC has started freshmen at all three linebacker spots. Their speed will serve them well, but those youngsters will have their hands full pre-snap, getting aligned properly against the Ducks’ hurry-up, and post-snap, dealing with lightening fast weaponry, which now includes De’Anthony Thomas, an L.A. product and one-time Trojan commit.

USC has been unsuccessful in its last five visits to the state of Oregon (losses to the Ducks in 2007 and 2009, and to Oregon State in 2006, 2008 and 2010) and has won only twice in its last seven trips to Eugene. If this game were in Los Angeles, we’d go with the upset.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 14 1/2

The pick: Oregon 42-31

Final: USC 38-35

2) No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 25 Baylor
Sat., Nov. 19 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

If the Sooners can get beat at home by Texas Tech, they can lose to anybody. The Bears are certainly a far more qualified opponent than the Red Raiders, who came into their game at Oklahoma riding a two-game losing streak and since leaving Norman have lost three in a row by a stunning combined score of 159-33.

Baylor (6-3, 3-3 in Big 12) has won its last two games and leads the conference in scoring (40 points per game) and total offense (568 yards per game).

Superstar quarterback Robert Griffin III will get some business done, especially at home where the Bears are 5-0 this season. However, Baylor is allowing an average of 38 points per game (108th in the nation) and won’t be able to slow down a rested Oklahoma offense that will be without the services of all-everything wideout Ryan Broyles, who tore his left ACL in the Sooners’ last game, a 41-25 victory over Texas A&M on Nov. 5.

Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1) has been rejuvenated by Stanford and Boise State getting knocked from the ranks of the undefeated last Saturday, but the Sooners need to avoid the temptation of thinking about Bedlam too much.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 13 1/2

The pick: Oklahoma 45-38

Final: Baylor 45-38

3) No. 17 Nebraska at No. 20 Michigan
Sat., Nov. 19 — Noon ET, ESPN

The Cornhuskers did an admirable job blocking out all the distractions at Penn State last Saturday, coming away with a 17-14 victory that kept them in the running for the Big Ten’s Legends Division.

Michigan (8-2, 4-2 in the Big Ten) also won its game last week, taking care of Illinois, 31-14, but Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson picked up a slight injury to his right wrist. Michigan might not opt to go to the air too often against Nebraska, which allows a generous 161 yards rushing per game (eighth in the conference), but when Robinson does fling the football, a gimpy wrist won’t help him break his unfortunate streak of five consecutive games with an interception (total of 13 on the season).

This will be the second time this season that the Cornhuskers play on the road in consecutive weeks. In the first instance, Nebraska got whipped at Wisconsin, 48-17.

Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who rushed for 192 yards on 27 carries last week versus the Fighting Illini, will be the home team’s hero.

Opening point spread: Michigan by 2 1/2

The pick: Michigan 28-23

Final: Michigan 45-17

4) No. 1 LSU at Mississippi
Sat., Nov. 19 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The only thing the Rebels have going for them is history.

Last year, LSU needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Mississippi, 43-36, which was a huge upgrade for the Tigers, who inexplicably lost their previous two games to the Rebels.

Ole Miss (2-8, 0-6 in SEC), which got humiliated last week in a 27-7 loss at home to Louisiana Tech, doesn’t have a shot to pull off anything remotely similar against Louisiana State (10-0, 6-0).

Not only have the Rebels lost their last 13 conference games, their lame duck coach was forced to suspend quarterback Randall Mackey and running back Jeff Scott for this game due to a violation of team rules.

The Rebel offense was punchless with Mackey and Scott, ranking 113th in total offense and 109th in scoring offense. It’ll be sad to see what Ole Miss is able to generate without them against LSU’s rock solid defense.

The Tigers went through the motions in the first half of last week’s 42-9 victory over Western Kentucky, so they owe Les Miles (and P101) and full 60-minute effort against the Rebels as they tune up for next Friday’s showdown versus Arkansas.

Opening point spread: LSU by 28 1/2

The pick: LSU 42-6

Final: LSU 52-3

5) No. 21 Penn State at Ohio State
Sat., Nov. 19 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC

Tom Bradley vs. Luke Fickell. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Joe Paterno vs. Jim Tressel, but if you dig deep enough through the muck, it’s still Penn State vs. Ohio State and both teams have a lot to play for on the football field.

Penn State (8-2, 5-1 in Big Ten) can clinch at least a share of the Leaders Division title with a victory over Ohio State (6-4, 3-3).

Both teams are looking to rebound from disappointing losses that saw them fall three points short. The Nittany Lions got beat, 17-14, by Nebraska at home, while the Buckeyes fell, 26-23, in overtime at Purdue.

Unlike the oddsmakers, we see this as a toss up and we’ll adopt the opinion that Penn State will find refuge and focus by being together as a team on the road.

Opening point spread: Ohio State by 7

The pick: Penn State 21-17

Final: Penn State 20-14

6) North Carolina at No. 9 Virginia Tech
Thurs., Nov. 17 — 8 p.m. ET, ESP

The Hokies are close to wrapping up the Coastal Division crown. All Virginia Tech (9-1, 5-1 in ACC) needs is a victory over fading North Carolina (6-4, 2-4) and Virginia to stumble at Florida State two days later.

This spotlight game matches two of the ACC’s top running backs against two of the league’s best run defenses. VT’s David Wilson leads the country with 1,360 rushing yards, while UNC’s Giovani Bernard is the nation’s top freshman ground gainer with 1,012 yards so far this season.

Wilson (career-high 175 yards rushing) and quarterback Logan Thomas (accounted for five touchdowns) came up big in the Hokies’ 37-26 victory last week at Georgia Tech. That stands in stark contrast to the Tar Heels who got blanked 13-0 at N.C. State on Nov. 5 and had to stew over that during last week’s bye.

Opening point spread: Virginia Tech by 10 1/2

The pick: Virginia Tech 31-14

Final: Virginia Tech 24-21

7) Kentucky at No. 13 Georgia
Sat., Nov. 19 — Noon ET, SEC Network

Remember when the Bulldogs opened the season with losses to Boise State and South Carolina, and Mark Richt was half-way out of Athens?

A reversal of fortune has Georgia (8-2, 6-1 in SEC) poised to clinch the Eastern Division title with a victory over Kentucky (4-6, 1-5).

Last season, Bulldog tailback Washaun Ealey rushed for 157 yards and five touchdowns in a 44-31 victory over the host Wildcats.

He won’t reach the end zone as often, but freshman Isaiah Crowell will pick up where Ealey left off against a Kentucky defense that allowed 38 points and 203 rushing yards last week in a miserable loss at Vanderbilt. That was a far cry from the 45-7 beating Georgia put on defending league and national champ Auburn last Saturday.

There’s also a huge gap between the quarterbacks with Aaron Murray lightyears ahead of UK freshman Maxwell Smith.

The Wildcats have not scored more than eight points in any road game this season, so the Bulldogs should have enough points to win by the time the first quarter ends.

Opening point spread: Georgia by 27 1/2

The pick: Georgia 41-6

Final: Georgia 19-10

8) No. 2 Oklahoma State at Iowa State
Fri., Nov. 18 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Powered by quarterback Brandon Weeden, wideout Justin Blackmon, running back Joseph Randle and a veteran offensive line, the Cowboy offense is incredibly efficient. Giving them extra possessions is simply deadly. But that’s exactly what’s been happening this season and why Oklahoma State (10-0, 7-0 in Big 12) is undefeated and in position to play for the BCS title. The Cowboy defense leads the nation in takeaways (34) and turnover margin (+1.8).

Oklahoma State deserves a ton of credit for shutting out the Texas Tech offense in last Saturday’s 66-6 rout. That performance was the exact opposite of allowing 45 points to Kansas State at home the week before.

Iowa State (5-4, 2-4), which ranks last in the Big 12 in scoring offense and turnover margin, doesn’t match up at all against what the Cowboys have to offer.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma State by 25

The pick: Oklahoma State 52-19

Final: Iowa State 37-31, 2OT

9) California at No. 8 Stanford
Sat., Nov. 19 — 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

With the Golden Bears coming to Palo Alto, the Cardinal have to quickly lick their wounds and move on.

The habit Stanford (9-1, 7-1 in Pac-12) had of winning their games by three touchdowns or more makes its return this week.

The Cardinal will buckle down and slow Isi Sofele and the rest of the Bear running attack, forcing them to take to the air.

Quarterback play for California (6-4, 3-4) has been spotty and although its wideouts are outstanding, you have to be able to get the ball to them. That won’t happen against an angry Stanford defense that feels it needs to redeem itself.

Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck will still be without some of his weapons, but he’ll rise above last week’s adversity and lead Stanford to a big victory over its arch rival.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 20

The pick: Stanford 52-24

Final: Stanford 31-28

10) Harvard at Yale
Sat., Nov. 19 — Noon ET, Versus

“The Game” is apparently bigger than “the scholarship.” At least it is to Yale quarterback Patrick Witt, who has chosen to play against Harvard on Saturday instead of attend a Rhodes Scholarship interview.

Witt, who was a finalist for the prestigious scholarship to Oxford, has withdrawn his application. Instead he hopes to lead the Bulldogs to their first victory over the Crimson in the last five years.

Harvard (8-1, 6-0 in Ivy), which was won nine of the last 10 meetings in this classic series, leads the Ivy League in both total offense and scoring. The Crimson haven’t scored less than 35 points in their last six games. Yale (5-4, 4-2), on the other hand, hasn’t scored that many in a single game since September.

Opening point spread: N/A

The pick: Harvard 38-24

Final: Harvard 45-7

TWO MORE YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE

Mississippi State at No. 6 Arkansas
Sat., Nov. 19 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

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

Despite taking a beating last week when they undervalued the Razorbacks, which resulted in enough action to move the line three points in an eventual 49-7 steamrolling of Tennessee, oddsmakers have once again made Arkansas (9-1, 5-1 in SEC) less than a two-touchdown favorite as the Hogs look to close out their home schedule a perfect 8-0 for the first time in over a decade.

Having allowed just 16 points per game over the their last eight contests, Mississippi State (5-5, 1-5) could offer some resistance against the SEC’s top-ranked offensive unit that has scored at least 38 points in each of its home games, but the Bulldog’s anemic offense isn’t likely to keep up regardless.

Opening point spread: Arkansas by 12

The pick: Arkansas 34-13

Final: Arkansas 44-17

No. 10 Boise State at San Diego State
Sat., Nov. 19 — 8 p.m. ET

The last time the Broncos lost a game — these errant three-pointers seem to be their bugaboo — they took out their frustrations on Utah State, registering a 50-14 victory in their final game as a member of the WAC.

That’s not good news for San Diego State (6-3, 3-2 in MWC), which has the unenviable task of being next up for Boise State (8-1, 3-1).

Having to visit Qualcomm Stadium might further enrage the Broncos, who are now being talked about as a Poinsettia Bowl participant after having their national championship and BCS dreams dashed by TCU last Saturday.

The capable Aztec pass defense will make Kellen Moore put in an honest night’s work to wrap up his 47th collegiate victory.

Opening point spread: Boise State by 16

The pick: Boise State 35-17

Final: Boise State 52-35

Week 12 record: 9-3
Total: 110-34

UTSA-Texas State series rebranded H-E-B I-35 Showdown

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For those not familiar with HEB Grocery Company, it’s a grocery giant founded in Kerrville, Texas, in 1905 by a man named Florence Butt. H-E-B now owns nearly 400 stores stretching across south and central Texas and central Mexico. H-E-B essentially owns the San Antonio area and leases back to its million-plus residents, so it makes sense that when UTSA and Texas State wanted to brand their rivalry, they turned to H-E-B.

Starting this season, the UTSA-Texas State series will now be known as the H-E-B I-35 Showdown

Cue the AD boilerplate!

“We’re thrilled that H-E-B has become the title sponsor for the I-35 rivalry football games between UTSA and Texas State,” UTSA Associate Vice President/Director of Athletics Lynn Hickey said. “No matter the sport, both fan bases always show up in strong support when the Roadrunners and the Bobcats get together on the playing fields. This newly-branded name for the football games this season and next will only add to the rich history between the two schools.”
 
“It is great to have H-E-B supporting the I-35 football series between Texas State and UTSA,” Texas State Director of Athletics Larry Teis said. “H-E-B has a great relationship with the state of Texas and both universities. We have continued to play UTSA in other sports and the rivalry is strong for our student-athletes and fans.”

The two schools are natural gridiron rivals. They sit just 50 miles apart — connected by Interstate 35, of course — and compete for athletes and regular students alike. The Roadrunners and Bobcats have been Olympics sports rivals for years, primarily as members of the Southland Conference. Each football program is (obviously) in FBS now and have met only once, a 38-31 UTSA win in 2012, since the Roadrunners’ program launched in 2011.

The series will resume Sept. 23 in San Marcos, with Texas State making a return visit to San Antonio on Sept. 22, 2018.

Hugh Freeze reportedly made at least a dozen calls to escort services as Ole Miss coach

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Former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze dialed “at least 12” numbers associated with escort services through online advertisements, according to a review of open records obtained by ESPN.com. The calls took place over a 33-month period, stretching from April 2014 through January 2017, and typically lasted two minutes or less.

Those calls appear to be what Ole Miss chancellor Jeffrey Vitter referenced as “a pattern of personal misconduct” on the night he resigned. The calls are the second phone related-issue connected to Freeze’s dismissal. He also made at least 200 calls to a booster that is under NCAA investigation.

There are two puzzling aspects to Freeze’s calls to escort services: A) that he made the calls on a university-owned cell phone in the first place, and B) that Freeze did not redact the calls from the records request, since other private calls were removed from the public review of his 39,000 calls as the Rebels’ head coach.

“Any personal calls having no relation to UM business are not public records,” Ole Miss attorney Robert T. Jolly wrote in an email to ESPN. “Personal calls will be clearly marked and redacted from the documents released.”

Freeze went 39-25 in five seasons as the Ole Miss head coach, peaking with back-to-back wins over Alabama and a long-awaited Sugar Bowl victory to close the 2015 season but ending with a 5-7 mark and a self-imposed bowl ban for the 2017 season, which will be coached by interim Matt Luke. Ole Miss will sit before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions on Sept. 11, with Freeze’s character and strict adherence to NCAA recruiting rules a cornerstone of the school’s defense.

Reports: Oklahoma State RB Jeff Carr to transfer

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Jeff Carr is planning to transfer from Oklahoma State, according to a report from Pokes sidelines reporter Robert Allen. That report has since been confirmed by the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman. Carr has since been removed from Oklahoma State’s online roster.

A junior, Carr was Oklahoma State’s most experienced running back but was passed on the depth chart by sophomore Justice Hill. Hill ran the ball 206 times for 1,142 yards and six touchdowns a year ago, while Carr rushed 12 times for 83 yards and one score. His 6.92 yards per carry average led the team. Carr rushed 36 times for 142 yards and one score as a freshman in 2015. Carr also saw his touches as a kickoff returner (29 returns to three) and a receiver (11 catches to one) fall from 2015 to ’16.

After losing the Temple, Texas, native, Oklahoma State will have five running backs on scholarship — four freshmen and one sophomore, Hill.

Multiple outlets have reported Carr is headed to Texas A&M-Kingsville, a Division II school that will permit Carr to play immediately.

Georgia Southern names redshirt freshman Shai Werts starting QB

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Georgia Southern is rolling with a freshman at quarterback this season.

The Eagles have announced that redshirt freshman Shai Werts will be the club’s starting signal caller to begin the season. Werts beat out junior college transfer Kado Brown and junior LaBaron Anthony to win the job.

“I think Shai certainly came in and took the majority amount of snaps with the ones both in spring practice and in camp and I thought he did a great job,” head coach Tyson Summers said in a statement. “I think that you see him have a very clear understanding of what we want do on offense. I think you see him have a very clear understanding of what he’s got to work on to get better at and I think that he’s done a tremendous job from a leadership standpoint on the field and in the classroom and in the meeting room. He’s certainly one of the key leaders for our entire football team, not just in the quarterback room and not just the offense, so I’m very proud of Shai.”

Werts replaces Georgia Southern’s two departed quarterbacks in seniors Kevin Ellison and Fabian Upshaw. The pair combined to complete 112-of-190 passes (58.9 percent) for 1,485 yards (7.82 yards per attempt) with 12 touchdowns against five interceptions while rushing 208 times for 1,019 yards (4.9 per carry) with nine touchdowns. As a team, Georgia Southern ranked 101st nationally in yards per play and 78th in scoring.

A native of Clinton, S.C., Werts stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 190 pounds. He was named the HSSR-SCHSL Division I AA Offensive Player of the Year as a senior at Newberry High School.

“All the work I’ve been putting in, it’s finally paid off,” Werts said. “I called my mom and she just went crazy so I’m glad that she’s proud of me and I can’t wait to tell the rest of my family.”

Werts will kick off its season at No. 12 Auburn on Sept. 2 (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network).