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

No. 7 Washington wins Pac-12 title game rematch with Colorado thanks to stifling second half defense

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For a half, Colorado had No. 7 Washington just where they wanted in a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch from a year ago. Just like in that matchup in Santa Clara 10 months ago, the Buffs trailed by just a score going into halftime and looked surprisingly sharp against their highly ranked opponents from Seattle.

Just like it did last December though, the third quarter rolled around and Huskies reminded everybody why they reign supreme in the Pac-12 until further notice, capping off a dominant second half to capture a key road win in Boulder 37-10 over the Buffs.

While Jake Browning still didn’t seem to figure out Mike MacIntyre‘s defense the second time around (11/21, 160 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), it’s not like the UW signal-caller needed to with the effort his run game and defense were able to provide on a rainy night under the Flatirons. Tailback Myles Gaskin had no problem shouldering more of the load with his backup out, rushing for 202 yards and two scores while breaking off big run after big run to slowly crush the home crowd’s spirits. If there was anything that did really go wrong for the offense in the second half, it was the fact that wide receiver Chico McClatcher was carted off after a gruesome ankle injury that figures to sideline him for some time to come.

Still, the impressive performance on the scoreboard was really the result of the Huskies’ stifling defense coming to play after some adjustments in the locker room. Linebacker Azeem Victor hit the double-digit mark for tackles and corner Myles Bryant pulled down a pick-six — one of three interceptions on the night. As a result, what was a close game for about two and a half quarters, ended up turning into a runaway win for the defending Pac-12 North champs.

While it was a tough night on the scoreboard with nothing going in the second half, there were some positives for the Buffs early on. Quarterback Steven Montez did look sharp working the middle of the field until the pressure was turned up and running back Phillip Lindsay managed 68 yards and a touchdown against one of the stiffer run defenses in the country. Given some of USC’s early struggles, it’s pretty clear that Colorado will remain a factor in the Pac-12 South battle if nothing else.

In the end though, it was the same ol’ same ol’ out West as Washington remained unbeaten and looking again like a College Football Playoff contender once again.

Jim Harbaugh advises President Trump to ‘check the Constitution’

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The latest controversy surrounding President Donald Trump has reached college football.  And, of course, it’s Jim Harbaugh doing the reacting.

At a campaign rally in Alabama earlier this past week, the POTUS let loose on those NFL players who have decided to use the National Anthem as a vehicle for protesting social injustice.  In essence, Trump called for those who participate in the demonstrations to be summarily dismissed.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!'” Trump was quoted as saying. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.'”

Suffice to say, that hasn’t even remotely happened as condemnation of the fiery rhetoric has been far and wide from the NFL community and beyond.  It was also condemned by a former member of the NFL community as Harbaugh, whose former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, played a significant role in a story that’s enveloped professional football over the past year, had some choice words on this latest kerfuffle.

“No, I don’t agree with the president,” Harbaugh said following Michigan’s win over Purdue. “Listen, that’s ridiculous. Check the Constitution.”

Harbaugh, who was already at odds with Trump over the slashing of one particular program, also stated initially that he didn’t respect Kaepernick sitting out the anthem before apologizing for misspeaking shortly thereafter.  In the spring, Harbaugh referred to the still-unsigned quarterback as a hero.

Notre Dame has no trouble with mistake-prone Michigan State

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Notre Dame probably would’ve beaten Michigan State on Saturday night if the Spartans pitched a perfect game. But instead the Spartans hit three batters, tossed a handful of wild pitches, aiding the Irish in a 38-18 blowout in Spartan Stadium.

The 20-point margin represents Notre Dame’s largest victory over Michigan State since a 36-14 whipping on Sept. 18, 1993 and the largest win by either team since a 45-23 Spartans win on Sept. 12, 1998. The Irish have now won four of the last five in a series that dates back to 1897.

The Irish (3-1) opened the game with a 7-play, 78-yard touchdown drive punctuated by a 16-yard Brandon Wimbush run, then immediately capitalized on a Michigan State (2-1) mistake as Julian Love returned a Brian Lewerke interception 59 yards for a touchdown.

Michigan State rebounded with its best drive of the night, knifing 75 yards in seven snaps for a touchdown. But another Lewerke turnover, this time a fumble in his own territory, set up Notre Dame with a short field, which Wimbush turned into an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dexter Williams. The Spartans threatened to pull within 21-14 until their third and costliest turnover of the first half, an L.J. Scott fumble at the goal line that took six points off the board and handed Notre Dame the ball at the 20-yard line. Notre Dame needed only five plays to push its lead to 28-7, where it would remain until halftime.

In addition to the three turnovers, Michigan State also committed nine penalties, dropped a handful of passes and lost a possession to a turnover on downs.

Michigan State opened the second half with a Matt Coghlin field goal, but Notre Dame answered that field goal and then some with a 9-yard Deon McIntosh touchdown run. Justin Yoon pushed the lead to 28 with a 46-yard field goal with 4:51 to play.

Michigan State completed the scoring with a cosmetic touchdown — a 25-yard toss from Lewerke to Gerald Holmes — and 2-point conversion with 3:09 remaining.

Wimbush was the star for Notre Dame, hitting 14-of-20 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown with eight carries for 52 yards and a touchdown. Lewerke carried the load for Michigan State, connecting on 31-of-51 passes for 340 yards — many of them junk — with a touchdown and an interception with nine carries for 56 yards and a fumble.

Michigan State will remain in East Lansing next week to host hard luck loser Iowa, while Notre Dame returns home to face Miami (Ohio).

Disaster averted as walk-off TD pushes No. 4 Penn State past Iowa

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Entering Week 4, the last three teams ranked in the Top Five entering Kinnick Stadium had exited with a loss.  In dramatic fashion, No. 4 Penn State flipped that script.

Trailing 15-13, Iowa scored on a 35-yard touchdown run by Akrum Wadley that put Iowa up, after a failed two-point conversion, 19-15 with 1:42 left in the game.  Penn State then proceeded to go 65 yards in 12 plays and 1:42 of game time, with Trace McSorley connecting with Juwan Johnson on a seven-yard touchdown pass with zero ticks left on the clock to secure a wild 21-19 win.

That fourth quarter also featured Penn State blocking a field goal… only to see Iowa return the favor 10 minutes later to set up what would’ve been the game-winning touchdown by Wadley.

If you simply looked at the box score, however, you would’ve thought this was a blowout that swung heavily toward the visitor.

The Nittany Lions outgained the Hawkeyes 579-273.  In fact, Penn State had more yards rushing (295) than Iowa had total offense. First downs?  PSU 29, Iowa 11.  The Nittany Lions held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game for good measure.

In the end, however, it was Penn State that came out on top on both the scoreboard as well as the stat sheet as the Nittany Lions kept their perfect season afloat as, after games against Indiana and Northwestern the next two weeks, they get set for season-defining games against No. 8 Michigan (Oct. 21) and No. 10 Ohio State (Oct. 28).  And Saquon Barkley, who set a single-game school record for all-purpose yards — 211 rushing, 94 receiving, 53 returns — will get to continue to state his case as the best football player in the country and one of a handful of Heisman Trophy front-runners.