Here’s what we’re thankful for … going 7-4 vs. “the number” in what ended up being a wicked Week 12.
Since the standards are sky-high here, our 9-3 straight-up mark was more like shooting par.
After 144 games, we’re 81-57-3 (three games weren’t on the board) and 110-34 straight.
TOP 10 GAMES (Thurs., Nov. 24 thru Sat., Nov. 26)
1) No. 3 Arkansas at No. 1 LSU
Fri., Nov. 25 — 2:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The Razorbacks have won three of the past four in this hard-fought series with the Tigers and a total of four overtime periods were required to decide their last two meetings in Baton Rouge.
Don’t get too caught up in the swollen pointspread. LSU (11-0, 7-0 in SEC) will have its hands full with Arkansas (10-1, 6-1).
Last season, Bobby Petrino ran the football 47 times to earn a 31-23 victory over Les Miles. This year, without running back Knile Davis (knee), who handled 30 of those carries, Petrino will rely a little more on his passing game, featuring quarterback Tyler Wilson and the best four-wide combo in the nation.
That’s a dangerous proposition while going against the Tigers’ vicious pressure packages and ultra-athletic secondary. Considering the fact that Arkansas’ run defense isn’t a great match against LSU’s ground game, Wilson will likely be playing from behind in the first half. He can’t get too anxious and risk forcing any throws. Even one turnover might be one too many for the Razorbacks to overcome the sure-handed Tigers.
LSU has turned the football over only six times this season, by far the lowest total in the nation. The Hogs have had 16 giveaways this year, which puts them in the middle of the road on the national stat sheet.
Oddly enough, one of the crucial matchups will be LSU punter Brad Wing versus Arkansas wide receiver/return man Joe Adams. As we know, Wing was a huge factor in the Tigers’ 9-6 victory over Alabama. He’ll be wise to boot the ball away from Adams, who has brought back three punts for touchdowns and is one of the Hogs’ keys to victory.
Opening point spread: LSU by 14
The pick: LSU 26-20
Final: LSU 41-17
2) No. 20 Penn State at No. 15 Wisconsin
Sat., Nov. 26 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.
The Badgers have had their ups and downs, but one constant is that they have been absolutely dominant at home.
Within the comfort zone of Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2 in Big Ten) has scored an average of 52.3 points, while only giving up 11.3. We don’t expect the Badgers to put up half-a-hundred on Penn State (9-2, 6-1), but many forget that Wisconsin has a top-10 defense of its own.
Penn State punter Anthony Fera will see lots of action and he’ll have to force Russell Wilson and Montee Ball to drive the length of the field in hopes of slowing the carnage committed by the fifth-best scoring offense in the nation.
On the flipside, the Lion offense will look like a kitten against the Wisconsin defense.
It will be a relatively close slugfest in the first half, but it’ll turn as the huge Badger offensive line begins to do what it does best — ground and pound — and pulls away for a comfortable win and ticket to the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 16
The pick: Wisconsin 38-13
Final: Wisconsin 45-7
3) No. 18 Clemson at No. 14 South Carolina
Sat., Nov. 26 — 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
With the turnover-machine Tigers visiting the ball-hawking Gamecocks, trouble seems to be brewing for the Atlantic Division champs.
Not so long ago, Clemson (9-2, 6-2 in ACC) was everyone’s darling team (including ours), but Dabo Swinney has watched in horror as his team committed 11 turnovers while losing two of its last three games (the only victory being a slim 31-28 decision over Wake Forest at home).
South Carolina (9-2, 6-2 in SEC), which has won the past two games in this bitter rivalry and is among the national leaders in takeaways with 29, seemingly has the Tigers right where it wants them … in Columbia.
Ever since beating Virginia Tech, 23-3, in Blacksburg, Clemson has been putrid on the road, giving up 45 points to Maryland, and losing to Georgia Tech and N.C. State by a combined score of 68-30.
However, the return of wideout Sammy Watkins (shoulder), who missed last week’s incomprehensible loss in Raleigh, is a massive plus for the Tigers and having left tackle Phillip Price (knee) back is equally important to quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was sacked six times and did not direct a touchdown drive last week.
Gamecock freshman tailback Brandon Wilds has proven to be a serviceable fill-in for Marcus Lattimore, but we have a hard time believing that he and sophomore quarterback Conner Shaw are the ones that will lead the Tigers to three in a row over the Gamecocks for the first time since 1970.
Opening point spread: South Carolina by 3
The pick: Clemson 24-23
Final: South Carolina 34-13
4) Ohio State at No. 17 Michigan
Sat., Nov. 26 — Noon ET, ABC
This prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif.
When they enter the Big House, it will have been 2,926 days since the Wolverines last tasted victory against their most-hated rival. So, in a sense, there’s less pressure on first-year head coach Brady Hoke.
Whether Ohio State (6-5, 3-4 in Big Ten) validates Luke Fickell’s only year at the helm by winning “The Game” for an eighth consecutive time or Michigan (9-2, 5-2) propels itself into a top notch bowl, it’s not likely to be pretty in this smash mouth affair that will be decided by the legs of the men lining up under center.
Both defenses are stingy, especially versus the pass, so the quarterbacks, who both lead their squads in rushing yards — Braxton Miller with 595 and Denard Robinson with 993 — will be responsible for making the big plays.
Despite the Wolverines notching double-digit victories in all but one of their home games, we’ll buck that trend and side with the one that shows the four Buckeye conference losses coming by an average of less than five points.
Opening point spread: Michigan by 7 1/2
The pick: Michigan 20-17
Final: Michigan 40-34
5) No. 22 Notre Dame at No. 4 Stanford
Sat., Nov. 26 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC
As Beano Cook said a few times: “You either have to play for Notre Dame or beat Notre Dame to win the Heisman Trophy.”
If that’s true, this is Andrew Luck’s chance to wrap up the stiff-arm trophy by running his personal record versus the Fighting Irish to 3-0.
Judging by how Stanford (10-1, 8-1 in Pac-12) wasn’t able to manhandle arch rival and overmatched neighbor California last week, it might not be the showcase game Cardinal supporters are expecting.
Without his only field-stretching wideout Chris Owusu (concussion) and full complement of tight ends, Luck seems almost human and the Cardinal offense resembles something that Notre Dame (8-3) might be able to handle.
The Tree almost allowed as many yards to Cal (361) as it did in the 53-30 loss to Oregon (387).
The Irish, who have won four in a row and eight of their last nine, might be able to take advantage, but that would have been more likely if running back Jonas Gray (knee) was still in the mix with Brian Kelly’s other playmakers
Opening point spread: Stanford by 6 1/2
The pick: Stanford 34-31
Final: Stanford 28-14
6) No. 2 Alabama at Auburn
Sat., Nov. 26 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Against the other two teams ahead of them in the SEC West standings, the Tigers lost both games by a total of 59 points (38-14 at Arkansas and 45-10 at LSU). Granted, both of those games were on the road against high-flying programs, but Auburn (7-4, 4-3 in SEC) doesn’t have much to hang its hat on beside home-field advantage as the Crimson Tide, the third SEC superpower, rolls into Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Furthering that point, the Tigers more recently got shellacked by Eastern Division champ Georgia, 45-7. Ahhh … life in the SEC.
With memories of last season’s 28-27 loss to the Tigers in Tuscaloosa dancing in their heads, Alabama (10-1, 6-1) should be focused and fiesty (unlike what we saw last week in a pedestrian victory over Georgia Southern).
Only one team in the SEC has a worse defense than Auburn (allowing 28 points and 407 total yards per game) and that team, Ole Miss, blew a 7-0 lead in a 52-7 loss at home to Alabama.
We’re tempted to call for a shutout, but we wouldn’t do that to the defending champs.
Opening point spread: Alabama by 21 1/2
The pick: Alabama 35-7
Final: Alabama 42-14
7) UCLA at No. 10 USC
Sat., Nov. 26 — 10 p.m. ET, FSN
In our lifetime, will we ever see anything as sad as the Pac-12 South again? Okay, okay … besides the Big East, will we ever see anything as sad as the Pac-12 South?
Spitting in the face of all logic and reason known to man, UCLA (6-5, 5-3) is in the driver’s seat in this decrepit division. If the Bruins upset cross-town rival USC (9-2, 6-2), the Bruins will represent the South in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.
UCLA’s position is so solid that even if it loses to USC, it would still play for the conference title if Colorado beats Utah. That would truly be incredible because if the Bruins went on to lose to the North champ, they would be 6-7 and not bowl eligible.
Ah … the glory of divisional play … and postseason prohibition.
Speaking of the Trojans … our boy Lane Kiffin has been on a rampage as of late, but let’s not forget what happened five years ago. If Karl Dorrell can roadblock Pete Carroll from the BCS Championship Game as a double-digit dog, why can’t Rick Neuheisel rain on Kiffin’s parade to nowhere?
In his four years in charge, Neuheisel has won only three league games on the road and all of them were at the expense of completely down-n-out programs.
Opening point spread: USC by 15 1/2
The pick: USC 31-23
Final: USC 50-0
8) Texas at Texas A&M
Thurs., Nov. 24 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The history of the Lone Star Showdown is why this game makes the list. The Longhorns and Aggies are going at it for the 118th time and last as members of the Big 12 Conference.
Texas (6-4, 3-4 in Big 12) holds a massive series lead (74-37-5), but the two schools have split the last six meetings. There’s really no telling how long the bragging rights that result from this Thanksgiving Day matchup will last since future meetings are up in the air.
Texas A&M (6-5, 4-4) leads the nation with 41 quarterback sacks. That would mean something if the Longhorns had a viable passing offense, instead of one that ranks way down at No. 96.
Losers of its last two games, Texas has scored only one touchdown and 18 total points in those setbacks against Missouri and Kansas State.
That doesn’t bode well for the Longhorns, who will need a monsterous performance out of their defense to outpoint an Aggie offense that averages 41 points per game.
Opening point spread: Texas A&M by 6 1/2
The pick: Texas A&M 24-19
Final: Texas 27-25
9) No. 8 Houston at Tulsa
Fri., Nov. 25 — Noon ET, FSN
Just about every team loses at some point. It’s virtually a college football law. The carnage doesn’t usually happen in a large batch like it did last week, but it surely does over the course of the season.
With that said, we fully expect Tulsa (8-3, 7-0 in C-USA) to drop visiting Houston (11-0, 7-0) from the ranks of the undefeated, leaving LSU as the only school unscathed … so far.
The Golden Hurricane are clearly the best team on the Cougars’ lightweight schedule.
Houston and its superstar quarterback Case Keenum have all sorts of eye-popping stats, but we prefer to focus on unimpressive road victories over Louisiana Tech (35-34) and UTEP (49-42).
Tulsa’s three losses are to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. For a Conference USA team, those defeats are badges of honor.
The Golden Hurricane’s league-best running game, led by Trey Watts and Ja’Terian Douglas, will do plenty of business against the Cougar defense, keeping Keenum on the sideline for long stretches.
Opening point spread: Houston by 3
The pick: Tulsa 37-35
Final: Houston 48-16
10) Pittsburgh at West Virginia
Fri., Nov. 25 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Both combatants enter the Backyard Brawl with similar situations, which pretty much isn’t unlike each and every mediocre member the Big East. They need to beat their arch rival and follow up with a win next week to clinch at least a share of the conference crown.
The key for Pittsburgh (5-5, 3-2 in Big East) seems to be scoring 35 or more points. When the Panthers do, they are 4-0. When they don’t, they’re 1-5.
Oddly enough, West Virginia (7-3, 3-2) seems like a team ready to accommodate that request. Syracuse racked up 49 points in a win over the Mountaineers on Oct. 21. Then, two weeks later, Louisville went to Morgantown and won, 38-35.
West Virginia does have the firepower to fight back. Quarterback Geno Smith is 527 passing yards shy of the league’s single-season record of 4,024 yards by Louisville’s Brian Brohm (2007). However, he needs to be alert when facing a Panther pass rush, led by end Aaron Donald, that ranks fifth in the nation in sacks (3.2 per game).
It’s the Big East. Expect the unexpected.
Opening point spread: West Virginia by 8
The pick: Pittsburgh 34-31
Final: West Virginia 21-20
Week 13 record: 6-4