Predictions 101 — Week 14

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Even if we drop every game here in “championship week” — and we might — it’ll still be a winning campaign. Every season starts with the goal to not get fired. Once again, here at the end, we’ve earned a contract extension.

Week 13 didn’t bring any bad luck, but it didn’t bring good luck either. We went 5-5 vs. “the number” and 6-4 straight-up.

After 154 games, we’re 86-62-3 (three games weren’t on the board) and 116-38 straight. Twenty-four units to the good ain’t too shabby. Let’s see how close we can get to 34 units up.

TOP 10 GAMES (Thurs., Dec. 1 thru Sat., Dec. 3)

1) No. 12 Georgia vs. No. 1 LSU in SEC title game at Atlanta
Sat., Dec. 3 — 4 p.m. ET, CBS

You can’t blame the Bulldogs for feeling disrespected. After posting a 31-17 victory at Georgia Tech last week to push its winning streak to 10 games, Georgia (10-2, 7-1 in SEC) dropped a spot in the BCS Standings to 14th.

Adding to the feeling of invisibility in Athens is this prevailing belief among the pundits that even if the Eastern Dawgs defeat the Western Tigers, top-ranked LSU (12-0, 8-0) will still qualify to the play for the BCS title.

Georgia’s plan is to show up and fight for that trip to the Sugar Bowl. Whether the Bulldogs are able to stand up to LSU’s relentless assault in all three phases of the game is another matter entirely.

While the Tigers have a defense with more potential and punch than the Indianapolis Colts, Georgia can present the appearance of stout unit statistically (10th in scoring defense, sixth in rushing defense, fifth in total defense and fourth in passing efficiency defense). However, those stats are largely built at the expense of the SEC’s also-rans, Coastal Carolina and New Mexico State.

Although 10 wins separate the Dawgs from the back-to-back losses that opened the season, we have to revisit those performances against Boise State and South Carolina because the Broncos and Gamecocks offer the best comparisons to the challenges presented by LSU’s offense.

After seeing how Arkansas’ passing attack got locked up by the Tiger secondary last week, it doesn’t seem likely that Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray will be able to get things going versus the “Honey Badger” and his friends. Pass protection and ground support won’t be there either.

Opening point spread: LSU by 10

The pick: LSU 29-10

Final: LSU 42-10

2) No. 15 Wisconsin vs. No. 11 Michigan State in Big Ten title game at Indianapolis
Sat., Dec. 3 — 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX

Throw that “Hail Mary” out the window and let’s consider this the overtime session that never started.

The Badgers certainly would be in favor of that, but then again they wouldn’t be able to play up the revenge angle.

We never really put much credence into that sort of thing. That’s good for talking up the game during the week and fans eat revenge up, but when the pads start cracking after the opening kickoff, all of that melts away.

Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2 in Big Ten) and Michigan State (10-2, 7-1) own the two best scoring defenses in the Big Ten, but each team was able to generate 31 points against one another before that last-second heave. More specifically, we’d like to point out that the Badgers seemed to be able to generate offense when they needed to in that last meeting, opening up a 14-0 lead early and coming back from a 31-17 deficit late.

While Russell Wilson and Montee Ball get the glory for that sort of production, it’s the excellent offensive line that makes it possible.

In addition, we have to question the Spartans’ effectiveness away from East Lansing. They surrendered 31 points in a loss at Notre Dame, scored only 10 at Ohio State and got dumped 24-3 at Nebraska. Even November victories at Iowa and Northwestern weren’t overwhelming.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 10

The pick: Wisconsin 31-24

Final: Wisconsin 42-39

3) No. 13 Oklahoma at No. 3 Oklahoma State
Sat., Dec. 3 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

We could go on and on about the leaky Sooner secondary. Or discuss the injuries to key offensive personel — wideout Ryan Broyles (knee), tailback Dominique Whaley (ankle), etc. But the fact of the matter is this: the Sooners have a heavy habit of coming out on top in Bedlam and playing in premier bowls.

Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) has never won an outright Big 12 (or Big Eight) title or participated in the BCS. To do so this year, the Cowboys will have to beat Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2) for the first time since 2002.

This will be a shootout and as is always the case, maximizing possessions and staying away from turnovers will be the key. That gives the Cowboys a leg up as only top-ranked LSU owns a better turnover margin than they do.

In last season’s meeting, Sooner quarterback Landry Jones helped out the OSU cause by throwing three interceptions, but he also completed 37 passes to his teammates for 468 yards and four touchdowns, fueling a 47-41 victory, which also was in Stillwater.

This will be a similar shootout.

The underdog Sooners can snatch a share of the Big 12 title and, more importantly, a BCS berth with a win. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have to deal with the heavy pressure of not screwing up their big chance. Even a shot at the national championship is a possibility. It’s too much to think about and too much to handle.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma State by 3

The pick: Oklahoma 38-35

Final: Oklahoma State 44-10

4) No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. No. 21 Clemson in ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Sat., Dec. 3 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Perhaps the Tigers should be credited with getting the Hokies in gear.

On Oct. 1, Clemson (9-3, 6-2 in ACC) barged into Blacksburg and rolled out with a dominating 23-3 victory, holding Virginia Tech (11-1, 7-1) without a touchdown at home for the first time since 1984.

After that game, the Hokies have been a different team, winning seven in row to earn this shot at their fourth league title within the past five seasons.

Massive 6-foot-6 quarterback Logan Thomas has led the revival. He threw for just 125 yards in the loss to Clemson, but has since accounted for 23 touchdowns (14 through the air and nine on the ground) during the seven-game winning streak.

The Tigers have been in a free-fall during the past month. Not only have they lost three of their last four games, the lone victory was a slim 31-28 decision over Wake Forest at home. That’s a far cry from the 8-0 start that had the nation talking.

Dabo Swinney’s young team — 29 freshmen have seen action this year — ran out of gas weeks ago. We don’t have much reason to believe that they’ll be able to recapture the midseason magic.

Opening point spread: Virginia Tech by 6 1/2

The pick: Virginia Tech 31-17

Final: Clemson 38-10

5) Texas at No. 19 Baylor
Sat., Dec. 3 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

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

Despite getting sidelined for the second half of the Bears’ 66-42 victory over Texas Tech last week, Robert Griffin III kept his Heisman candidacy alive by finding the end zone three times in the first 30 minutes, bringing his season TD total to 41.

In what could be the penultimate game of his collegiate career, the redshirt junior is one of four players in FBS history with more than 9,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing.

Texas (7-4, 4-4 in Big 12) got some extra time to shake any possible Thanksgiving Day hangover from defeating Texas A&M, 27-25, on a 40-yard field goal as time expired. But, sophomore quarterback Case McCoy (just 135 total yards last week) has so far done little to replicate the accomplishments of older brother Colt, so it’s difficult to envision the Longhorn offense keeping up with Baylor (8-3, 5-3), which is the nation’s only team averaging more than 300 yards through the air and 200 on the ground.

Respect must be given to a Texas defense that ranks ninth in the nation, allowing 298 yards per game, but they’ll be hard-pressed to hold down RG3 and an explosive Bear attack complemented by running back Terrance Ganaway and wide receiver Kendall Wright.

Baylor came into Austin on a three-game losing streak last year before defeating Texas for the first time in 13 tries. Riding a four-game winning streak into this contest, the Bears can get over the hump against their in-state foe in Waco for the first time since 1997.

Opening point spread: Baylor by 2

The pick: Baylor 34-24

Final: Baylor 48-24

6) Connecticut at Cincinnati
Sat., Dec. 3 — Noon ET, ESPN

The Huskies’ biggest fans are in Louisville this week. A Connecticut upset would send the 7-5 Cardinals to the BCS.

Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2 in Big East) could grab that golden ticket with a win if Thursday night features South Florida eliminating West Virginia (see below) from this ridiculous race for an undeserved spot in the BCS.

In theory, Connecticut (5-6, 3-3) benefits from the fact that Bearcat quarterback Zach Collaros is out with an injured ankle, but then again, it was Collaros who threw four interceptions to gift-wrap a 38-17 victory for the Huskies last year at Rentschler Field.

UConn certainly has been in a greedy mood as of late, coming up with six takeaways in last Saturday’s 40-22 victory over Rutgers. That puts a lot of pressure on backup quarterback Munchie Legaux, who is just a sophomore, and senior running back Isaiah Pead, who will have to carry much of the load.

Opening point spread: Cincinnati by 8 1/2

The pick: Cincinnati 27-26

Final: Cincinnati 35-27

7) No. 22 West Virginia at South Florida
Thurs., Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

How do you think B.J. Daniels felt while watching footage of West Virginia’s 21-20 victory over Pitt last week? The Mountaineers’ 10 quarterback sacks must have sparked some concern within the USF signalcaller who sat out last week’s game with an injured shoulder.

When West Virginia (8-3, 4-2 in Big East) really needed to make defensive plays, like during the Panthers’ final drive, it came up big, dropping Pitt QB Tino Sunseri four times.

However, South Florida (5-6, 1-5), which needs a win to become bowl eligible for the seventh consecutive year, might be the one putting the most pressure on the passer in this matchup.

The Mountaineers have just a shred of a running game and leave most of the heavy lifting to capable quarterback Geno Smith. That might not work out so well against a defense that’s averaging 3.6 sacks per game and can pin its ears back even more.

Opening point spread: Even

The pick: South Florida 26-24

Final: West Virginia 30-27

8) Ohio vs. Northern Illinois in MAC title game at Detroit
Fri., Dec. 2 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Both the Bobcats and Huskies are in high gear as they approach Detroit.

Ohio (9-3, 6-2 in MAC) has won its last five games after experiencing a mid-season slump. Northern Illinois (9-3, 7-1) is even hotter, having taken its last seven, following a 48-41 loss at Central Michigan to open league play on Oct. 1.

Each team has been receiving quality quarterbacking and can score. The difference between the two is apparent on the other side of the football.

The Huskie defense, which ranks 91st in total yards allowed and 94th in points allowed, has been particularly porous outside of DeKalb, surrendering nearly 40 points per game (60 at Toledo on Nov. 1). That doesn’t matchup well with a balanced Bobcat attack that averages 212 yards on the ground and 252 through the air.

Opening point spread: Northern Illinois by 4 1/2

The pick: Ohio 37-31

Final: Northern Illinois 23-20

9) No. 24 Southern Miss at No. 7 Houston in C-USA title game
Sat., Dec. 3 — Noon ET, ABC

While the Cougar offense and gunslinger Case Keenum have garnered all the attention this season, we were most impressed with the team’s defense in last week’s dominating 48-16 victory at Tulsa.

Houston (12-0, 8-0 in C-USA) hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in its last four games. That’s deadly in combination with an offensive attack that averages nearly 53 points per game.

Southern Miss (10-2, 6-2) has won four of its six road games this season, but both of those losses were to teams without winning records (Marshall and UAB). That seems to suggest that the Golden Eagles won’t have nearly enough focus to stay with the rampaging Cougars.

Being within arms reach of a BCS berth adds a great deal of pressure to Houston. And UCLA’s interest in head coach Kevin Sumlin provides some unwanted distractions. But we’re going to ride with the Cougars … until January.

Opening point spread: Houston by 13

The pick: Houston 52-34

Final: Southern Miss 49-28

10) UCLA at No. 8 Oregon in Pac-12 title game
Fri., Dec. 2 — 8 p.m. ET, FOX

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i. Much like Chip Kelly, he’s taken on much tougher assignments this season. Blame Reggie Bush’s parents for this absolute dud of a “championship” game.

Rick Neuheisel would love nothing better than to send his Bruins to the Rose Bowl. (Notice we said “send,” not “take,” as the already fired coach won’t be allowed to stick around for that one if something on par with Chaminade over Virginia happens to occur.)

Expect UCLA (6-6, 5-4 in Pac-12) to come out with its pistol playbook wide open, hoping to catch Oregon (10-2, 8-1) off guard.

The Bruins, who didn’t get any last week at USC, will score a few points early. The Ducks will counter with an avalanche of touchdowns to put UCLA out of its misery and send Rick off rudely.

Oregon hosted UCLA last year and easily covered a similarly massive number with a 60-13 victory.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 29 1/2

The pick: Oregon 56-20

Final: Oregon 49-31

Week 14 record: 5-5
Total: 121-43

Iowa TE Noah Fant threatened with a gun while at Omaha park

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Iowa tight end Noah Fant’s return home to Omaha, Nebraska for the summer became a lot more newsworthy than he would have liked this week.

According to a local police report, Des Moines TV station 13WHO reports that Fant was approached by a area man on Tuesday night who pointed a handgun at the sophomore football player and told him to leave the area:

Fant left the park and called police.  He initially told them he didn’t want to press charges but said if police were able to find him he would.  He told officers he believed the suspect lived in a house near the park because he’d seen the man before in the area.

As officers were searching the area near the park they spotted a man matching the description provided by Fant run into a home.  Police were able to talk to the man’s mother who convinced him to come to the door.  Officers reported the man, 23-year-old Matthew Trimble, was heavily intoxicated and placed him in the back of their cruiser for their own safety.  Trimble’s mother says her son told her that he had confronted a group he believed to be smoking marijuana in the park.  She agreed to turn over his handgun to officers.  Police say the gun was loaded with one round in the chamber and 11 in the magazine.

Trimble was later charged with one count of Making a Terroristic Threat with a Firearm after Fant identified that he was in fact the one who pulled the gun on him.

Luckily Fant (or anyone else) was not injured in the incident and everything eventually played out somewhat peacefully. The Omaha native caught nine passes for 70 yards and one touchdown last season for the Hawkeyes and is expected to return to the team later on.

School officials did not release a statement on the incident involving Fant but did tell Landof10 that they were looking into the matter as of Thursday evening.

Northwestern WR Solomon Vault reportedly set to miss 2017 season after surgery

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Northwestern’s task of replacing the Big Ten’s leading receiver from a year ago appeared to take a hit on Friday.

InsideNU reports that wide receiver Solomon Vault will miss the upcoming 2017 season after undergoing “lower body surgery” and will now take a redshirt for the year.

The speedy pass-catcher had 15 receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns last season for the Wildcats and was expected to step up and see a big increase in targets with all-Big Ten receiver Austin Carr off to the NFL. In addition to his duties catching passes from Clayton Thorson, Vault was also Northwestern’s first choice at kick returner after scoring a whopping five touchdowns on returns in the past three years.

Assuming that Vault does indeed take 2017 off, he’ll have just one year left to play in 2018 as a redshirt senior.

The school has not yet confirmed the report about Vault but it certainly seems that the Wildcats’ special teams are set to take a hit going forward if he even misses part of the upcoming campaign for the program. It was already going to be difficult to replace so much production at receiver too and this bit of news will only server to reinforce that point as Northwestern enters their summer workout programs in the next few weeks.

LSU coaches set to learn DL Arden Key’s status for 2017 next week

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LSU is all set to learn whether or not they’ll have the services of one of the nation’s best pass rushers for the 2017 season.

That’s according to Tigers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who told reporters on Thursday that the coaching staff should learn defensive lineman Arden Key‘s status for the season next week.

“Arden’s been around, so I’ve seen Arden,” Aranda said, according to AL.com. “Arden’s looking good. We get back together next week with a full staff. … I anticipate at that time that we’ll hear about Arden’s direction and where he’s going and whether he’ll be with us or not.

“I’m very hopeful that he will be.”

Key announced back in February that he would be stepping away from the program this spring “for personal reasons.” It’s been vague as to what those reasons really are or if the edge rusher would even return to the field for LSU in 2017, but it appears we’ll know either way fairly soon. Key himself tweeted last month that he would not be sitting out his upcoming junior year — leading to speculation that he would indeed be back in the lineup for the Tigers.

Aranda’s comments also seem to indicate things moving in that direction but LSU fans and the rest of the opponents on the schedule will apparently have to wait another week in order to get confirmation on Key’s status for the upcoming season.

Lane Kiffin reportedly bringing Jim Harbaugh and Tennessee coaches to work FAU summer camp

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The calendar is just about ready to flip over to June and with that date change comes time to kick off plenty of summer camps for high school recruits around the country.

While all eyes will be on major outings such as USC’s annual Rising Stars Camp or Florida’s Friday Night Lights, there may be a smaller school’s camp that will draw just as much attention. The one in question? Well of course it would be Lane Kiffin’s first summer camp at Florida Atlantic.

While the draw of Kiffin alone is enough to elicit some higher than normal interest, the list of coaches tagging along for the Owls’ June 5th camp is even more eyebrow-raising than that of the hosts. Namely that includes Jim Harbaugh (and the rest of the Michigan staff per the Sun-Sentinelalong with a few familiar faces from the Tennessee staff, among others.

Yes, that’s right, Kiffin’s old employer is all set to buddy up with the ex-Vols coach down in Boca according to a report from FAUOwlAccess.com.

Given recent limits put on satellite camps by the NCAA, it certainly makes plenty of sense for schools like Michigan and Tennessee to send their staffs to work camps at places like FAU given the latter’s close proximity to so many top recruits. Likewise, it’s pretty understandable to see Kiffin bring in some even bigger names to his first summer camp in order to draw attention to the program he took over in the offseason.

Still, it should be more than a little interesting for many fans in the Volunteer State to see a few Tennessee coaches working alongside the man many blame for their program’s slide in recent years. It’s been several years (and coaching stops) since Kiffin left Knoxville so perhaps next month we’ll find out if time really does heal all wounds.

To the surprise of nobody though, FAU hasn’t even played a game under their new head coach and the Owls are already making waves and finding plenty of time in the national spotlight.