Predictions 101 — Week 2

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While we went 6-1 overall last week, we pulled a Houston when it comes to the pocketbook. It was bad, but no one “got resigned” … yet. Maybe we just need to add a “few bad citizens” around here to find more success.

The fear this week is that our team will get caught peeking ahead past this week’s task at hand — an uninspiring quintet rescued only by SEC expansion — to next week’s far more attractive board that includes: Alabama at Arkansas, Florida at Tennessee, USC at Stanford, Notre Dame at Michigan State and BYU at Utah.

Week 2 doesn’t contain a single game pitting ranked foes against each other. We really had to scrounge around to fill out our Top 5 this week. It’s such a sad Saturday that Thursday’s Pitt-Cincy pillow fight made it.

Oh well, still way better than baseball.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thursday, Sept. 6 thru Saturday, Sept. 8)

1) No. 7 Georgia at Missouri
Sat., Sept. 8 — 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2

With nearly half of its starting defense out of uniform (four suspensions and one injury), Georgia was underwhelming in a 45-23 victory over Buffalo last Saturday. Mark Richt will need more hands on deck in Columbia to slow down the Tigers’ slippery spread led by dual-threat quarterback James Franklin.

Missouri, which is making its SEC debut, also deserves your attention in the other phases of the game, after reaching the end zone four times while the offense wasn’t on the field in its 62-10 smackdown over Southeastern Louisiana. Punt returner Marcus Murphy accounted for half of those non-offensive scores in the opener.

Even with all that firepower on the opposite sideline, the Bulldogs still figure to set the pace. Junior quarterback Aaron Murray has a pair of senior wideouts to target and freshman running back Todd Gurley had an impressive debut last week with a TD hat-trick that included a 100-yard kickoff return.

They’ll put the Bulldogs out in front and Jarvis Jones & Co. will make sure they stay there.

Missouri defensive end Sheldon Richardson disagrees, but “old man football” still wins the games in this league.

Opening point spread: Georgia by 3 1/2

The pick: Georgia 27-20

2) No. 24 Florida at Texas A&M
Sat., Sept. 8 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

As the Gators’ 27-14 victory over Bowling Green last Saturday illustrates, it’s good to open versus an opponent that you can work out the kinks against without a heavy threat of getting tagged with a loss.

The Aggies had their version of that sort of runout all set up against Louisiana Tech, but Hurricane Isaac forced a postponement, leaving this visit by Florida as their lidlifter. Yowza.

No pressure, Kevin Sumlin. Your first game in charge at College Station is just Texas A&M’s debut in the SEC. Don’t worry, no one will remember that billboard. And Herbie, Desmond and Coach Corso will be there with you to break the matchups down.

It’s a tough spot for redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. He has  wideouts Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, and rebuilt running back Christine Michael to lean on, but Florida’s ultra experienced defense will swallow up most of what the Aggies have to offer from their new attack.

On the other side, Gator sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel has emerged from a competition with Jacoby Brissett, but it’s still a shaky situation, which isn’t helped much by inexperienced receivers. But they’ll be going against an Aggie secondary that is similarly young and senior running back Mike Gillislee seems capable of shouldering a significant share of the offensive burden.

Opening point spread: Texas A&M by 2 1/2

The pick: Florida 23-17

3) Washington at No. 3 LSU
Sat., Sept. 8 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

Keith Price is back to trigger a Husky offense that’s expected to be explosive. Early in the opener versus San Diego State, the attack appeared as advertised, but when tackle Ben Riva went down, the offense went with him for the final three quarters.

Against a far-from-dominant defense, the Washington offense showed that it will struggle in the post-Chris Polk era. Without a take-charge running back, the play-action game will struggle and Price won’t be able to take advantage of an unsettled LSU defensive backfield.

Tigers in Seattle are nothing like Tigers in Death Valley. It’ll be a long night for the Dawg offense.

We’ve been hearing that new coordinator Josh Wilcox will work with a much improved Husky defense. Well, giving up 199 rushing yards to the Ronnie Hillman-less Aztecs doesn’t bode well when Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and a bigger, meaner offensive front brings it in the trenches. Both Tiger backs will go over the century mark for the second week in a row.

The Huskies are still a few years away from approaching college football’s elite.

Opening point spread: LSU by 22

The pick: LSU 38-10

4) No. 13 Wisconsin at Oregon State

Sat., Sept. 8 — 4 p.m. ET, FX

We don’t know what to expect from the Beavers, who had their opener versus Nicholls State postponed due to Hurricane Isaac. But, really, what would we have learned? Perhaps it serves them well that the Badgers didn’t get a peek and they’ll be better rested.

Wisconsin wasn’t impressive against Northern Iowa, needing to bat down a pass on fourth-and-1 to preserve a 26-21 victory in Madison.

The Badger offense led by new quarterback Danny O’Brien (a “Russell Wilson rule” graduate of Maryland), new coordinator Matt Canada and good ol’ Montee Ball was vanilla as usual and generally effective versus the FCS squad.

The Wisconsin defense, however, could be a concern in Corvallis as the Panthers seemed to figure out coverage schemes and took advantage in the second half.

Oregon State’s young backfield of Sean Mannion (sophomore) and running backs Storm Woods (redshirt freshman) and Malcolm Agnew (sophomore) could be just balanced enough to topple the visitors.

The Beavers are usually good for at least one of these a season, having beaten nine ranked teams since 2005.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 11

The pick: Oregon State 28-24

5) Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Thurs., Sept. 6 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Last week wasn’t a good one for teams from Pennsylvania with new coaches at the helm, hosting teams from Ohio.

Road games after wakeup calls have a way of bringing clear focus to a squad, at least that’s what Paul Chryst is hoping happens for his Panthers.

Except for the fact that Pitt has a short week to rest and retool before this Thursday tilt, this all puts Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones in a difficult spot. Not only would he have preferred the Panthers take care of Youngstown State as expected, but to have a played a game prior to this conference opener would have been nice too.

Pitt, which also might be bolstered by players coming off suspensions, has several wicked weapons. They just weren’t sharp right out of the box.

The Bearcats will go down that same road.

Opening point spread: Pittsburgh by 2

The pick: Pittsburgh 23-21

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Penn State at Virginia
Sat., Sept. 8 — noon ET, ABC

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

Maybe a home game against a team they were supposed to beat wasn’t the best recipe for the Nittany Lions to begin their new regime and get the attention back to business on the field.

Often times a road trip does a squad in turmoil some good. And while there’s no escaping the past and the emotional rollercoaster that comes along with it, Penn State players now have the experience of dealing with the distractions.

The Lions seemed in control of their opener versus Ohio, but the bubble burst after halftime when they surrendered 301 yards of total offense and allowed the Bobcats to convert on 11-of-12 third-down attempts.

Virginia junior triggerman Michael Rocco was 25-of-37 for 311 yards and a touchdown in last Saturday’s 43-19 victory over Richmond, spoiling the Spider coaching debut of his uncle, Danny Rocco.

Penn State might be drained and shorthanded, but it ain’t no FCS squad. If Nittany Lion running back Bill Belton can overcome an ankle injury and help control the ball on offense, the defense can regroup to avoid a repeat of the sloppy second half effort against Ohio that saw them outscored 21-0.

Smiling faces in Happy Valley are long over due.

Opening point spread: Virginia by 5

The pick: Penn State 24-20

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Iowa State at Iowa
Sat., Sept. 8 — 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

It’s the 60th renewal of the Cy-Hawk Series, which dates back to 1894.

This isn’t the most balance rivalry around as Iowa owns a 39-20 advantage. Last year, however, Iowa State broke a three-game losing streak with a 44-41 triple-overtime win in Ames. The last time the Cyclones won on the road in Kinnick Stadium was in 2002, but that 36-16 upset was a doozy (the Hawkeyes’ only setback of the regular season).

Judging from their respective openers, this one is a tossup, especially since our friends in the desert tend to underestimate the Cyclones.

Iowa waited until 2:15 remained in the fourth quarter to score its only touchdown in an 18-17 come-from-behind victory over Northern Illinois at Solider Field last Saturday. Four field goals normally won’t get the job done against anybody, but the Hawkeyes escaped. Credit the Iowa defense, which held the Huskies to just 201 total yards, only 54 of which came through the air.

Iowa State, on the other hand, overcame a horrific start and scored 24 unanswered to beat a decent Tulsa squad, 38-23, last week in Ames. Quarterback Steele Jantz was 32-of-45 for 281 yards. He sprayed his aerials around to nine different receivers and accounted for three touchdowns.

The Cyclones, who displayed a sturdy defense in the final three quarters versus the Golden Hurricane, will be tested by Hawkeye sophomore tailback Damon Bullock, who rushed for 150 yards and that lone touchdown (a 23-yarder on third-and-9). However, Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg passed for only 129 yards and was sacked six times, giving something new offensive coordinator Greg Davis to work on.

Opening point spread: Iowa by 4

The pick: Iowa 26-24

Week 1 record: 6-1

A.J. Brown powers Ole Miss to Egg Bowl win over No. 15 Mississippi State

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No. 14 Mississippi State lost their quarterback, lost the game, lost the Egg Bowl trophy and lost a year’s worth of rivalry trash talk in one fell swoop on a chilly Thanksgiving evening at home. To add insult to injury, they lost all that at the hands of a Starkville native to boot as star receiver A.J. Brown powered Ole Miss to their sweetest victory of the year over their in-state rivals 31-28.

The Rebels needed just three plays and 39 seconds to open the scoring in what was perhaps the team’s best all-around game in several weeks, showing no signs of any tryptophan-induced sluggishness following a traditional turkey day meal. Brown finished the game with 167 yards receiving and a 77 yard touchdown to cap off a terrific return to his hometown in opposing colors, while tailback Jordan Wilkins also chipped in with another 110 yards and two scores on the ground to pace the offense.

The old Landshark defense also made an appearance, with the second worst team in all of FBS when it came to forcing turnovers managing to secure a whopping five turnovers and three sacks.

While the loss was undoubtedly disappointing for the Bulldogs, most of the team’s attention was on their star quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald. He entered the game on the verge of another 2,000 yard passing/1,000 yard rushing season but was tackled awkwardly on a three yard run early in the first quarter. Replays showed his ankle to be facing a much different direction than it should as part of a gruesome scene and the signal-caller was carted off to the team’s medical facilities shortly thereafter amid a raucous applause from fans on both sides.

Fitzgerald later returned to the sidelines to cheer on his teammates but it certainly appears that his promising season is over as Mississippi State turns their attention to a bowl game in the coming weeks.

Stepping in at quarterback was freshman Keytaon Thompson, who was much more of a threat with his legs than his arm until a few late drives. He finished the night with 195 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a team-high 121 yards rushing (with another score) in relief. Tailback Aeris Williams managed to rack up 82 yards and a score but faced a stacked line of scrimmage at every turn given the injury to his veteran teammate.

While the injury to Fitzgerald overshadowed the game, the backdrop of Ole Miss’ NCAA infractions case loomed large over the rivalry as much as the game itself. The two schools’ fan bases have been quite chippy and MSU linebacker Leo Lewis — a central figure in the case — was kept in check to the tune of two tackles and a half a sack as the Rebels didn’t attack him like some thought they would.

Perhaps more pressing to some Bulldogs fans is if that was the last Egg Bowl they would see with head coach Dan Mullen patrolling the sidelines. His name has been linked to openings at Florida, Tennessee, Nebraska and others in the past few weeks and there is a growing expectation that the most successful coach in school history could have just donned the maroon and white for the final time in a loss.

That’s of no concern across the way as interim coach Matt Luke did a good job rallying the team to their sixth win of the season. The Rebels are not bowl eligible as part of self-imposed sanctions but the satisfaction of beating their rivals probably takes the sting out of that fact just a little bit, especially with a Starkville native like Brown leading the way on Thursday night.

Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald suffers gruesome ankle injury to spoil first half of the Egg Bowl

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The Egg Bowl has returned to Thanksgiving but the game hasn’t gone quite as planned for No. 14 Mississippi State, as they trail Ole Miss 10-6 after a low-scoring first half of play thanks to a shocking injury that brought both sides of the heated rivalry to their feet in unison.

That came early in the first quarter when Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was tackled after a three-yard run, suffering a gruesome ankle injury in the process that saw his foot point in a direction it certainly wasn’t supposed to. He was put in an air cast and carted off the field to perform x-rays immediately afterward and needless to say will not return to the game.

The productive signal-caller was just 1-of-5 passing with an interception and 16 yards rushing when he went down with the injury. Fitzgerald was approaching the 2,000 yard passing and 1,000 yard rushing marks for the season heading into the game and received plenty of support from his fellow football players around the SEC and beyond after suffering such a horrific-looking injury that appears to knock him out for the rest of 2017.

Freshman Keytaon Thompson replaced Fitzgerald behind center and went 3-of-5 passing for 32 yards and an interception. He’s known for his running ability at this stage and did manage a team-high 65 yards on the ground, including a 32 yard scamper. Running back Aeris Williams was fairly limited facing a stacked box against a new quarterback and ran for 41 yards in the half as turnovers (three of them) really hampered MSU in the half.

With Ole Miss ineligible for postseason play even if they won on Thursday night, it was not at all surprising to see the Rebels play better than they have in a long time. The team needed just three plays and 39 seconds on their opening possession to find the end zone and were punching far above their weight defensively too. Wide receiver A.J. Brown was the big play threat once again for the offense, with five catches and 90 yards after just a half of play. In the process, he set a new school single-season record for receiving yards and joined kicker Greg Wunderlich (all-time school leader in FG’s) in the record books for the visitors as they look to  get a little bit of payback for last year’s 55-20 loss in Oxford.

The two programs have split the last six meetings in the hotly contested Egg Bowl rivalry and both appear locked into another close one after a half of play. It’s too bad that an injury to an all-SEC player had to spoil things early on but both the Bulldogs and the Rebels will have to put that behind them as they emerge from the locker room hoping to secure a win after years worth of bad blood.

Odell Beckham Jr. gifts LSU players recently unveiled custom shoes ahead of regular season finale

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LSU has produced plenty of NFL stars in recent years but few identify with the Tigers quite like New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr. does. The Baton Rouge native recently released his first “lifestyle” shoe with Nike last week and has been hitting the press circuit almost as hard as the rehab room as a result to showcase the new kicks.

Not one to forget where he went to school and blossomed into a first round pick, Beckham filmed a video for LSU’s football team this week and really gave the Tigers something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving by giving every player on the team a version of the shoe to wear when they’re suiting up in cleats.

The color isn’t quite a true match for LSU gold but it’s certainly pretty close and even comes with the longitude and latitude of Baton Rouge inscribed. You can probably bet that the team will be wearing them to Tiger Stadium prior to taking on Texas A&M on Saturday in the regular season finale for both sides.

Wisconsin breaking out the plaid in battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Minnesota

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No. 5 Wisconsin continues to play for an undefeated record and hold out hopes of making it into the College Football Playoff this week but the Badgers are also chasing something pretty important too when they take on Minnesota on Saturday: Paul Bunyan’s Axe. One of the best rivalry trophies in the sport has resided in Madison for the past 13 years but might carry on bigger implications given what’s at stake for the visitors when they arrive in Minneapolis, especially facing off against a Gophers team hoping to make it to a bowl game with another win.

Paul Chryst and company aren’t just treating this as any other Big Ten game however and teaming up with Under Armour to go well beyond ludicrous… and all the way to plaid. Well, “lumberjack plaid” to be precise, as the accents on their uniforms, gloves and shoes will all have a different spin on their normal colors.

While it’s a subtle difference, it is a pretty slick look for the Badgers as they take on their rivals. No word yet on what P.J. Fleck and the home team will break out in response but hopefully they rise to the occasion that the Axe commands.