Mark Richt

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

New Years Six Set: Penn State vs. USC in Rose Bowl, Michigan vs. Florida State in Orange

KALAMAZOO, MI - NOVEMBER 19:  Head coach P.J. Fleck and the rest of the Western Michigan Broncos football team celebrates after beating the Buffalo Bulls 38-0 at Waldo Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
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The College Football Playoff selection committee still had some work to do before calling it a day. After setting the playoff field, the job of filling out the rest of the New Years Six bowl lineup was still at hand. This job may not have been as difficult as deciding on a fourth team in the playoff. We’ll have some good bowl matchups coming our way with Big Ten champion Penn State heading to the Rose Bowl. The Nittany Lions will face red-hot USC from the Pac-12 in Pasadena.

The Nittany Lions and Trojans are no strangers, having played nine games in the past, with eight meetings since 1982. USC owns a 5-4 advantage against Penn State, which includes a 2009 Rose Bowl victory by a final score of 38-24. This will be the third Rose Bowl meeting between the two programs, with USC also winning the 1923 Rose Bowl, 14-3. The two schools also faced off in the 1982 Fiesta Bowl (Penn State won 26-20) and have met in two of the old Kickoff Classics in New Jersey (splitting the games played in 1996 and 2000). Neither team has lost a game since flipping the calendar from September to October.

The Orange Bowl will have Michigan vs. Florida State in Miami, giving us a nice coaching matchup of Jim Harbaugh and Jimbo Fisher. Michigan took care of the Florida Gators last bowl season, and a second victory over a top program from the state of Florida would be a nice recruiting pitch if Michigan can pull it off. This will be the third meeting between the Wolverines and Seminoles all-time, with past meetings coming in 1986 and 1991. Both of those games were played in Ann arbor in September non-conference tilts, with the two schools splitting the series.

The Sugar Bowl appeared to be set as well, with Auburn and Oklahoma as the most likely participants under the Sugar Bowl contract with the SEC and Big 12. That became official with the bowl announcements this afternoon. Oklahoma earned a Sugar Bowl birth by virtue of being the Big 12 champion. Auburn received the invite as the highest-ranked  SEC team available, with SEC champion Alabama playing in the College Football Playoff.

Western Michigan expected to be heading to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion, and that is exactly where they are heading. The Broncos will meet Big Ten championship game runner-up Wisconsin, giving P.J. Fleck’s team a chance to go 3-0 against the Big Ten this season (Western Michigan owns wins against Northwestern and Illinois).

Coaches Poll: Alabama closes out regular season on top, PSU up to No. 5

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03: James Franklin, head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, and Malik Golden #6 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrate with the Big Ten Championship Trophy at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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Just as it did in the AP Top 25, the Alabama Crimson Tide started the season on top of the coaches poll and went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the coaches poll. The top four remained unchanged in the final coaches poll of the regular season, with Penn State moving up to No. 5 after winning the Big Ten championship.

Penn State moved up three spots in the coaches poll, jumping Michigan and Oklahoma in addition to Wisconsin. USC and Florida State also moved up two spots to round out the top 10 of the coaches poll. Colorado and Oklahoma State each fell out of the top 10 after losses this weekend.

The Temple Owls cracked the top 25 this week by appearing at No. 24 following an American Athletic Conference championship victory over Navy. No. 14 Western Michigan is the highest-ranked Group of Five school, with USF checking in at No. 22 (despite losing this season to Temple).

Here is the final coaches poll (the least important poll of them all) of the regular season, with Alabama receiving all 58 first-place votes.

  1. Alabama (58)
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Washington
  5. Penn State
  6. Michigan
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Wisconsin
  9. USC
  10. Florida State
  11. Colorado
  12. West Virginia
  13. Oklahoma State
  14. Western Michigan
  15. Louisville
  16. Stanford
  17. Auburn
  18. Florida
  19. Virginia Tech
  20. LSU
  21. Nebraska
  22. USF
  23. Utah
  24. Temple
  25. Iowa

College Football Playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington ready to chase championship

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  The Clemson Tigers with the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the first half during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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The College Football Playoff selection committee had to do a little bit more discussion to determine their top four this season than they may have had in the past two seasons, but a decision has been reached. Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington are this year’s selections for the College Football Playoff.

The College Football Playoff Four

No. 1 Alabama – The defending national champions are making their third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff. Alabama is the only program to appear in all three playoff tournaments under the new model.

No. 2 Clemson – The ACC champion Clemson Tigers are back in the playoff for a second straight season. Clemson fell in the championship game last year against Alabama. Will the experience of last season pay off for the Tigers in their second consecutive trip representing the ACC?

No. 3 Ohio State – The Buckeyes are looking for their second national championship under the College Football Playoff model. Ohio State becomes the first non-division and non-conference champion to play in the playoff.

No. 4 Washington – The Huskies are the only team making their first trip to the College Football Playoff, and they represent give the Pac-12 their second team in the playoff in three years. Oregon made the playoff in the first season two years ago. The Huskies enter the playoff with blowout wins against top 25 teams Washington State and Colorado.

The Matchups

Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington – A nice little Steve Sarkisian storyline is hidden here, but Chris Petersen and Nick Saban have been two terrific coaches over their careers with time to prepare for big games. Alabama is Atlanta is a tough draw for Washington, but then again anybody would have had a tough draw against the Crimson Tide.

Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State – A rematch of the Orange Bowl from a few years ago, with Clemson clipping Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes in the final season of the BCS formula. Ohio State loves making trips to the Fiesta Bowl, where they always seem to come out on top. Can they keep that going?

First Two Out

Penn State moved up to No. 5 in the playoff committee’s rankings, nudging just ahead of No. 6 Michigan. The Nittany Lions had a compelling argument for inclusion in the playoff but will take a trip to the Rose Bowl as a pretty nice consolation prize. Penn State will play either Colorado or USC. Michigan will now be heading to the Orange Bowl.

Big 12 misses out once again

The Big 12 has missed the College Football Playoff for a second time in three seasons. The four-team playoff model guarantees one power conference will be left out every year at a minimum, and the Big 12 once again took the short straw without a clear above-the-rest contender. Even a strong finish and run by the Oklahoma Sooners was not enough to overcome a tough September with losses to Houston and Ohio State. This should kick the tires on some heated discussions in Big 12 circles in the future.

The ACC, Big Ten and SEC have been represented in all three playoffs, with the Pac-12 earning two berths.

Report: Alabama QB Cooper Bateman plans to transfer

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 01:  Cooper Bateman #18 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks to pass against the Kentucky Wildcats at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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With Alabama seeing a rising star in freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, it should be no real shock Cooper Bateman would contemplate finding a new place to call home and throw the pigskin around next fall. According to a report this morning from AL.com, that is exactly what he will do.

A redshirt junior, Bateman ended the season sitting third on Alabama’s depth chart at quarterback despite starting off the spring as the most likely starter for the defending national champions. Not only did Bateman fall behind Hurts, but also Blake Barnett. Barnett opted to leave Alabama earlier this season and continues to search for a landing spot.

Al.com reports it is unknown or unconfirmed exactly when Bateman will formally leave the team. For now, there is uncertainty over whether or not Bateman will remain with the Tide during the upcoming playoff run. It is worth remembering players deciding to leave the Alabama program have been shown the door in not-so-flattering fashion in the past, so if Bateman is out then he may not be welcomed back.