Predictions 101 — Week 13

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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?

Nah.

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
Total: 116-38

Urban Meyer may have successfully talked his way out of a night trap at Iowa

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Sitting from his office in Columbus, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has been able to see just how dangerous a night game at Iowa can be. Last season, Iowa upset Michigan with the first loss suffered by the Wolverines setting off a wild finale to the Big Ten season. Earlier this season, a night game at Iowa nearly caught Penn State before the Nittany Lions managed to get out of Kinnick Stadium with a last-second victory. Knowing the history of Kinnick Stadium at night, Meyer may have managed to successfully lobby himself from having to play a night game at Iowa.

Big Ten kickoff times for Week 10 have started to come together on Monday, with Minnesota announcing it will host Michigan in primetime on FOX. The decision to have the Gophers and Wolverines in primetime was a tad puzzling considering two of the other game son the Big Ten schedule that day. Penn State is playing at Michigan State and Ohio State is playing — you guessed it — at Iowa.

The Buckeyes will be playing at either noon or 3:30 p.m. eastern on November 4, with the Nittany Lions and Spartans likely to be slotted in the other timeslot. The speculation is the 3:30 p.m. ET slot will be reserved for the winner of this week’s Ohio State-Penn State matchup, as the game will likely begin to take more weight in the College Football Playoff picture on top of the Big Ten championship hunt.

Meyer addressed concerns about playing so many road games at night this season, and perhaps the conference is responding to his concerns. Ohio State has already played four primetime games, including three on the road (Indiana, Rutgers, Nebraska). If not for the World Series coverage this weekend, odds are good the home game against Penn State would have been a lock for primetime as well. Ohio State also played a primetime game earlier this year against Oklahoma. But Meyer’s chief concern was playing so many night games on the road, as it becomes quite tiresome for players.

Was Meyer looking forward all along to prevent Ohio State from having to play a night game at Iowa? Regardless of the motive, the Buckeyes will not have to test the fates under the lights at Kinnick Stadium in two weeks.

Michigan’s Lavert Hill apologizes for one-finger salute to Penn State crowd

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Over the weekend, Tennessee’s Rashaan Gaulden flipped a double-bird to fans at Alabama after the Vols scored a touchdown. It has quickly become one of the top images from the weekend, and Gauldin has apologized for his obscene gesture to the Alabama faithful. On Monday, another player on the road who decided to flip off the home fans has now apologized for his actions.

Michigan’s Lavert Hill was seen offering a one-finger salute to fans at Penn State after Michigan had suffered a 42-13 loss at Beaver Stadium. The image of Hill gesturing to the fans made the rounds, and now Hill has offered his own apology in a brief statement.

“I sincerely regret my inappropriate gesture at the end of Saturday’s football game. I let my emotions get the best of me and learned a valuable lesson,” Hill said in his statement. “I am truly sorry for this offensive gesture and vow that it will not happen again.”

Hill had committed to Penn State during the recruiting process before flipping to stay in state with the Wolverines. It was a rough night for former Penn State commits playing in a Michigan uniform on Saturday. Kicker Quinn Nordin, who committed to Penn State with an airplane music video but flipped to Michigan after Jim Harbaugh slept over has been rock solid with his kicking this season, but he missed his first kick Saturday night for an extra point.

Alabama and Penn State land two Jim Thorpe Award semifinalists

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Th semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award were unveiled on Monday, and it goes to show how good the defensive secondaries are for Alabama and Penn State. The Crimson Tide and Nittany Lions were the only schools with two semifinalists out of the 13 total players to be announced as semifinalists for the award for the nation’s top defensive back.

Alabama is represented by Minkah Fitzpatrick and Levi Wallace. Alabama has one Jim Thorpe Award winner in the history of the award (first awarded in 1986), with Antonio Langham winning the award in 1993. Penn State is looking for the first Jim Thorpe Award winner in school history. Marcus Allen and Grant Haley have been named semifinalists for the award this year, giving Penn State a chance to have a player win the award.

Other notable players named as a semifinalist include Florida State’s Derwin James and Duke’s Jeremy McDuffie and Ohio State’s Denzel Ward. The Big Ten, SEC, and ACC all have three semifinalists. The winner of the award will be announced during the annual Home Depot College Football Awards Show on December 7 on ESPN.

2017 Jim Thorpe Award Semifinalists

Marcus Allen, Penn State
Quin Blanding, Virginia
Jalen Davis, Utah State
DeShon Elliott, Texas
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Grant Haley, Penn State
Derwin James, Florida State
Jeremy McDuffie, Duke
Parry Nickerson, Tulane
Justin Reid, Stanford
Dominick Sanders, Georgia
Levi Wallace, Alabama
Denzel Ward, Ohio State

College football’s Week 9 mid-afternoon schedule is loaded

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The Week 9 schedule in college football is lacking for too much buzz in the primetime slot this week, so you will want to stay plugged in in the middle of the afternoon. Before Virginia Tech, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Washington State all get into action in the primetime slots across the networks, the biggest games of the day will have already been played.

This week’s 3:30 pm ET time slot is stacked and highlighted by three games between ranked opponents, all with various conference championship and/or playoff implications on the line. And because the World Series is scheduled to have a game Saturday night, FOX has reserved a colossal Big Ten matchup for the 3:30 pm time slot this week. As good as the game may be, it will have some stiff competition from each of the the other networks.

No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Penn State (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

The game of the week will take place in the Big Ten. After a dismantling of Michigan’s defense, Penn State heads to Columbus to take on a rested Ohio State squad looking for revenge for their lone regular-season loss from a season ago. Saquon Barkley will be in the spotlight once again, but don’t overlook J.T. Barrett’s recent string of success. The winner of this one is likely heading to the Big Ten championship game to face Wisconsin. But the way this season is going, both teams could still very much be on the College Football Playoff radar if the Buckeyes win a close one.

No. 9 Notre Dame vs. No. 14 NC State (3:30 p.m ET, NBC)

You can probably consider this one an elimination game just before the College Football Playoff selection committee gets to work. Each team enters with one loss, which makes a second loss nearly devastating for playoff hopes. Josh Adams running the ball is tough to slow down, but NC State has already locked down wins against Florida State and Louisville, so they are feeling confident off a bye week. A loss for the Wolfpack dings the ACC a bit, but of course, NC State remains undefeated in conference play with Clemson at home coming up soon. A two-loss NC State could end up hurting the ACC’s playoff chances.

No. 3 Georgia vs. Florida (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

The Bulldogs have been ruling, but throw the records out when these two teams face each other in Jacksonville, right? The bottom line is the Gators lack any offensive punch so it will be up to Florida’s defense to find a way to keep the game within reach just in case Georgia makes a costly mistake. A Georgia win puts the Bulldogs one giant step closer to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

No. 25 Iowa State vs. No. 4 TCU (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

The Cyclones have cracked the top 25 rankings and are hoping to score another upset to stay there. This week, Matt Campbell and his rising program host TCU with a chance to remain in the hunt for an appearance in the Big 12 championship game. It is probably unlikely Iowa State reaches the conference championship game, but we can no longer assume a loss for Iowa State any given week.

Other midafternoon games worth noting

No. 12 Washington vs. UCLA: Huskies still on the playoff radar but need to be impressive moving forward.

No. 17 USF vs. Houston: Bulls look to score nice win to stay near the top of Group of Five pecking order.