Dantonio Kelly

Predictions 101 — Week 3

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Once again, the team here is seeing things clearly. In Week 2, we went 4-3 straight, gave you Oregon State over Wisconsin, nearly came through with another big dog in Penn State and pegged the points scored for both Missouri and Texas A&M in their SEC debuts.

Even better, we were 6-0-1 versus “the number.” Not that anybody cares about such things, right?

That’s what we’ve done for you lately. Now, on to what’s up next.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Sept. 13 thru Sat., Sept. 15)

1) No. 20 Notre Dame at No. 10 Michigan State
Sat., Sept. 15 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Whaddaya know, the Fighting Irish have a shot to become relevant again. All they need to do is beat the Spartans.

Such an occurrence would mean Notre Dame improves to 3-0 for the first time in 10 years, breaks a six-game losing streak to ranked opponents on the road and effectively eliminates the Big Ten from BCS title contention in mid-September. All fairly amazing. Also quite difficult.

We don’t have much confidence in the Irish offensive line that was able to carve out just 52 rushing yards against Purdue last week. That spells trouble when going against a rugged Michigan State defensive unit that has yet to allow a touchdown, especially with an inexperienced quarterback starting his first game in a hostile environment.

Good luck to redshirt freshman Everett Golson, who had some pre-snap difficulty last week at home, and Tommy Rees when he comes in from the bullpen.

Irish backers will point to their team’s success in last year’s 31-13 victory over the Spartans, but it’s hard to imagine Mark Dantonio’s crew laying another egg like that at home. It hasn’t happened since and there’s certainly no reason to expect a recurrence in this spot.

Opening point spread: Michigan State by 2 1/2

The pick: Michigan State 24-16

2) No. 1 Alabama at Arkansas
Sat., Sept. 15 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

As we all know, the Razorbacks had an utterly forgettable outing last Saturday. Allowing Louisiana-Monroe to leave Little Rock with a 34-31 overtime victory was an all-time low for Arkansas, which went from No. 8 to No. Nothing in a flash.

The Warhawks made themselves at home, racking up 550 yards of offense (412 through the air) and routinely converted on fourth down (6-of-7). Unreal.

Aside from A.J. McCarron’s expert quarterbacking (14-of-19 for 219 yards and four TDs), the Crimson Tide didn’t have a particularly stellar Saturday either. That sounds strange, considering that Alabama registered a 35-0 victory over Western Kentucky, but you gotta shake your head at the fact that the all-world Tide offensive line gave up six sacks and the Hilltopper offense generated more first downs through the first three quarters.

However, this is less about waving red flags and more about knowing Nick Saban won’t let it happen again anytime soon. All of this and a growing injury list is bad news for the Hogs.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 13

The pick: Alabama 35-13

3) No. 2 USC at No. 21 Stanford
Sat., Sept. 15 — 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX

The Cardinal have dominated this series as of late. They’re on a three-game winning streak and have taken four of the last five from the Trojans, beginning, of course, with that upset of all upsets, the 24-23 stunner over No. 2 and 41-point favorite USC at the Coliseum in 2007.

The Trojans are ranked No. 2 in this spot as well, but judging from recent results, they pale in comparison to Pete Carroll’s juggernaut from five years ago.

Sure, USC has a distinct quarterbacking advantage with Matt Barkley, eons more experienced than Stanford’s Josh Nunes. But Lane Kiffin should show off a little more.

Who else could have a Heisman Trophy caliber quarterback share the field with a pair of seemingly unstoppable All-America wideouts and end up with only 187 yards passing against a limp Syracuse team as Barkley did last Saturday?

He did toss six touchdown passes, because stats are supreme at Troy these days, but to win “Pac-10” (we won’t recognize Utah and Colorado until they are deserving) games on the road, Barkley will have to direct an offense more diverse and explosive than the one that saw him toss 21 of his 23 completions to either Robert Woods or Marqise Lee out in the flats versus the Orangemen.

The Trojans should be wary of Cardinal safety Ed Reynolds, who already has three interceptions and 144 return yards this year, and linebacker Shayne Skov, a playmaker who is back for his senior season after being sidelined by injury.

USC isn’t Duke, but the recipe Stanford used to bottle up the Blue Devil running game and limit pass plays downfield should have some level of success.

We get the feeling that Kiffin plays to not lose. Maybe that’s the scholarship reduction talking. Maybe it’s the paranoia. In any case, the Cardinal won’t need Andrew Luck to give the Trojans, sans their kicker Andre Heidari, all they can handle up on The Farm.

Opening point spread: USC by 6 1/2

The pick: USC 29-27

4) No. 18 Florida at No. 23 Tennessee
Sat., Sept. 15 — 6 p.m. ET, ESPN

Here’s how coaches earn those big bucks: Texas A&M’s offense had it all figured out in the first half of its SEC debut against Florida last week. But after working in some halftime adjustments, the Gator defense rose up and put a halt to it all, forcing five consecutive three-and-outs on its way to an easy second-half shutout.

Next up for Will Muschamp and the rest of the Florida braintrust is figuring out a way to slow down the Volunteer pass-catch combo of Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter, who judging by his sensational performance in last week’s 51-13 victory over Georgia State (eight receptions for 146 yards and three scores) appears fully recovered from ACL surgery.

Expect an unpolished performance out of Gator signalcaller Jeff Driskel, who will find himself under siege by a Tennessee defense that has shown a nose for the football.

It’s good to see this matchup return to an elevated status with ranked squads on both sidelines for the first time since 2007.

Could the Vols possibly drop four in a row to Florida in Knoxville and eight overall in this series? Nah.

Opening point spread: Even

The pick: Tennessee 24-20

5) California at No. 12 Ohio State
Sat., Sept. 15 — noon ET, ABC

The Buckeyes carry the extra weight of the Big Ten’s nightmarish showing against the “Pac-10” (Utah and Colorado not worthy) last week as Wisconsin whiffed at Oregon State, Nebraska made UCLA famous and Arizona State rocked Illinois.

The Bears were less than golden in their opener, losing to Nevada. Yet to impress, Cal bounced back last Saturday, sleepwalking to a 50-31 victory over Southern Utah. A rash of penalties this season calls coaching and overall focus into question. And key injuries aren’t helping either.

Ohio State will need someone other than sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller (296 yards and four scores in last week’s 31-16 win over Central Florida) to carry the mail. With a banged up backfield, that would normally be difficult. But the Bear run defense appears to be soft and unorganized.

As we have said in the past, Cal is Cal and will always be Cal. That ain’t a good thing.

Opening point spread: Ohio State by 13

The pick: Ohio State 34-10

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Virginia at Georgia Tech
Sat., Sept. 15 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

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

Incomprehensible placekicking inefficiency got in the way of last week’s upset special as favored Virginia escaped with a 17-16 win over visiting Penn State thanks to a quartet of shanks and a blocked extra point.

We’ll give credit to Cavalier quarterback Michael Rocco, who capped a game-winning 86-yard touchdown drive by tossing a six-yard scoring strike with just 1:28 left. The Virginia defense deserves some credit too, forcing the Nittany Lions to settle for field goal attempts after inheriting excellent field position throughout the contest thanks to four turnovers.

Georgia Tech was victimized by field goals, as well, in its overtime loss at Virginia Tech and gets no bonus points for racking up more than 700 yards of total offense against Presbyterian last week.

The Yellow Jacket wishbone should find sticky going against a Virginia defense that has allowed less than 75 rushing yards per game this season.

Virginia returns 14 starters from a squad that spoiled then-No. 12 ranked Georgia Tech’s 6-0 start last season, becoming the first team to out rush the Yellow Jackets since Iowa did it in the Orange Bowl, following the 2009 season.

Don’t look now, but the Cavs break into the Top 25 after improving to 3-0.

Opening point spread: Georgia Tech by 9 1/2

The pick: Virginia 23-17

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 25 Brigham Young at Utah
Sat., Sept. 15 — 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2

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

The Cougars take their undefeated start, national ranking and the sour taste from last year’s turnover-plagued 54-10 loss to the Utes into Salt Lake City for the latest battle in the “Holy War” (sorry, the new politically correct “Desert Duel Rivalry Game” moniker doesn’t get us going).

This will be a defensive battle between teams in their sophomore seasons of independence and the Pac-12.

Utah has the brightest individual standouts on both sides of the ball, in running back John White and nose tackle Star Lotulelei, but BYU has the team edge on offense and defense.

With quarterback Jordan Wynn now retired from football due to repeated shoulder injuries, senior Jon Hays and/or freshman Travis Wilson will have a hard time leading the Utes to the Promised Land in this one.

BYU ballcarrier Michael Alisa will outrush White, atoning for last year’s limp team output of just 11 yards on the ground. That’ll give quarterback Riley Nelson enough run support to make this game manageable.

Sadly this old and bitter rivalry, which Utah claims began in 1896, won’t be played in 2014 and 2015, and its future after a meeting in 2016 is in question. Enjoy it while you still can.

Opening point spread: Utah by 1

The pick: Brigham Young 31-21

Week 2 record: 6-1
Overall record: 12-2

CFT Previews: The Pac-12

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 17:  Wide receiver Darren Carrington #7 of the Oregon Ducks hurdles defensive back Budda Baker #32 of the Washington Huskies in the second half on October 17, 2015 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The Ducks defeated the Huskies 26-20.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The Pac-12 may be, pound for pound, the deepest conference in college football. And that’s the problem.

A conference with nine good teams and zero great ones creates a thrilling week-to-week product, and a weak one when it comes to reaching the College Football Playoff. As we saw last season.

With no generational quarterback around to run the conference, 2016 shapes up more like 2015 than 2014.

NORTH
1. Washington (7-6, 4-5 Pac-12):
Most often, the off-season hype is wrong, fodder for the sake of fodder to get us through the long night that is the off-season. I don’t think this is one of those times. The Huskies don’t have Christian McCaffrey, but they have the best defense in the league, the best quarterback in the division and a coaching staff good enough to win the whole damn league.

2. Stanford (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12): It feels like a sign of disrespect to pick against the machine David Shaw helped build, and then maintain and elevate after Jim Harbaugh‘s departure. Especially when they have the game’s sharpest Swiss Army knife. Come to think of it, why are they No. 2 again?

3. Oregon (9-4, 7-2 Pac-12): The Ducks can score on anybody. The question: can they stop anyone? Not even new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke is sure of that answer.

4. Washington State (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12): Last year was a grand success for Wazzu. The Cougars won nine games, claimed twice as many Pac-12 games as they lost and stayed in the divisional race deep into the season. Another season like 2015 would be an even grander one.

5. California (8-5, 4-5 Pac-12): As we saw Friday night, Davis Webb may be the only thing standing between this team and an empty December.

6. Oregon State (2-10, 0-9 Pac-12): Poor, poor Gary Andersen. He leaves one of college football’s most stable winners for one of its heftiest rebuilds. Check back in 2018.

SOUTH
1. UCLA (8-5, 5-4 Pac-12): Jim Mora is the only coach to recruit on the same level as USC in the Pac-12 South. And USC has the nation’s most difficult schedule. Add in that plus Josh Rosen and you get yet another Pac-12 title game loss for the Bruins.

2. Utah (10-3, 6-3 Pac-12): Utah won more total games than any team in the Pac-12 South last season, they shared the division championship with USC and they have the best offensive and defensive lines in the conference. So, why aren’t I picking them? In the Pac-12, always side with quarterbacks.

3. USC (8-6, 6-3 Pac-12): The most talented overall roster in the conference, but the worst schedule in the nation. Alabama, Stanford, Utah, Washington and UCLA on the road, plus Oregon and Notre Dame coming to the Coliseum? Yikes.

4. Arizona (7-6, 3-6 Pac-12): Arizona won’t win the Pac-12 South as they did in 2014. But they won’t be as snake bit as they were last season, either. Eight wins, with four of five coming in conference play, feels right.

5. Colorado (4-9, 1-8 Pac-12): If you want to wow your friends with your brave prognostications, make it this: Colorado will play in a bowl game this fall.

6. Arizona State (6-7, 4-5 Pac-12): Todd Graham had better hope this (entirely worthless) prediction doesn’t come true. After back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013-14, falling to last place in the division would scratch the trigger finger of Sun Devils AD and former NFL executive Ray Anderson something fierce.

Foot injury to oficially keep leading tackler T.J. Edwards out of Wisconsin’s opener vs. LSU

COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 07: Quarterback Caleb Rowe #7 of the Maryland Terrapins takes a hit from linebacker T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers after making a pass during the second half at Byrd Stadium on November 7, 2015 in College Park, Maryland. Wisconsin won, 31-24. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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When last we left T.J. Edwards, there was no timetable for the Wisconsin linebacker’s return.  With the opener just a handful of days away, there’s been some clarification to Edwards’ status.

Late last week, Edwards was left off the two-deep depth chart released by the Badgers, a clear sign that the redshirt junior would be unavailable for Saturday’s game against LSU at Lambeau Field.  Monday, head coach Paul Chryst officially ruled Edwards out of the Big Ten-SEC matchup.

Edwards suffered a broken foot over the summer and did not participate at all during camp.  It remains unclear whether Edwards will be healthy enough for UW’s Week 2 matchup with Akron in the home opener.  If the school continues to err on the side of caution, they could hold Edwards out of that game and the following week’s contest against Georgia State targeting a return for the Big Ten opener against Michigan State Sept. 24 in East Lansing.

As a redshirt sophomore last season, Edwards started all 13 games.  He led the Badgers in tackles with 84 in 2015, while his 6.5 tackles for loss were fourth.

On the Edwards-less depth chart, redshirt junior Jack Cichy (four career starts) and true sophomore Chris Orr (six career starts) are listed as the two starting inside linebackers.

CFT Previews: The Big Ten

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 15: J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the football during the first quarter of the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on November 15, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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If there was ever a season the Big Ten looked like the Big Two and the Little Ten, this was it. Michigan State is reloading, while the rest of the conference scraps for space amongst themselves as Ohio State and Michigan take off into their own stratosphere.

Here’s a quick glance at how we think the Big Ten shakes out.

EAST
1. Ohio State (12-1 overall in 2015, 7-1 Big Ten): Losing all but six of your 22 starters would be a problem for anyone but Ohio State. If the 2014 team played like a pack of lions, the 2015 bunch was a pack of lions playing with a belly full of antelope: the ability was there, the desire wasn’t. This year’s group is just as talented, they just haven’t had the chance to prove it yet.

2. Michigan (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Many think next year will be The Year for Michigan. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t like working on other people’s timelines. I like this year’s team to lose to Ohio State but still reach the College Football Playoff.

3. Michigan State (12-2, 7-1 Big Ten): Seemingly every year Michigan State reaches a height previously thought to be unattainable, but last year’s second-in-three-years Big Ten championship and CFP appearance feels like the farthest Mark Dantonio can take this team now that Michigan is no longer out to a decade-long lunch.

4. Penn State (7-6, 4-4 Big Ten): With college football’s most miserable marriage of James Franklin and Christian Hackenberg at long last over, this should be the year Penn State starts to look like the Penn State Franklin wants it to be, especially with Joe Moorhead running the offense. The residual effects of the sanctions, though, say 2017 may be more like it.

5. Maryland (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Might as well place a giant “Under Construction” sign out side the program as D.J. Durkin works to build Maryland into a program after Jim Harbaugh‘s image.

6. Rutgers (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Ditto as above, but with an even larger “Under Construction” sign and Harbaugh’s mug crossed out from it and Urban Meyer‘s pasted crudely on top.

7. Indiana (6-7, 2-7 Big Ten): Kevin Wilson has done some nice things in Bloomington. He’s run the ball as well as anyone in the conference, he put a scare into Ohio State last season and he took the Hooisers to a bowl game. The rest of the Big Ten East is getting better, though, and Indiana is, well, Indiana.

WEST (A.K.A.: THE BIGGEST TOSS-UP IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL)
1. Nebraska (6-7, 3-5 Big Ten): In a division that will largely come down to who gets lucky at the right time, go with a team whose luck is due to flip after losing six one-score games in 2015.

2. Northwestern (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Normally Northwestern takes a tumble after Pat Fitzgerald‘s bunch builds to a 10-win peak, needing to reload after losing the bulk of a senior-laden team. The 2016 Wildcats bring back enough to contend again.

3. Iowa (12-2, 8-0 Big Ten): Kirk Ferentz‘s teams zig when they’re supposed to zag, and zag when they’re supposed to zig. Last year’s undefeated regular season, coming one stop shy of an improbable Cotton Bowl run, was a zig. Most expect the Hawkeyes to zig again this year. We know better.

4. Wisconsin (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Feels like Paul Chryst, while a solid coach, will only take the Badgers to heights seen previously under Gary Andersen and Bret Bielema, but not above them.

5. Illinois (5-7, 2-6 Big Ten): New AD Josh Whitman made a bold move in hiring longtime NFL coach Lovie Smith to head a program to which he had no prior connection. Building the Illini to a contender will take time, but keeping Wes Lunt healthy may be all Illinois needs to reach a bowl game this fall.

6. Minnesota (6-7, 2-6 Big Ten): ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit has the Gophers winning the Big Ten West. I’m willing to be wrong in saying he’ll be way, way wrong.

7. Purdue (2-10, 1-7 Big Ten): Make no mistake: this is a make or break year for Darrell Hazell, especially with new AD Mike Bobinski now in place. I think he’ll break.

USC’s star LT won’t start vs. ‘Bama; backup LB suspended

BOSTON, MA- SEPTEMBER 13: Quarterback Cody Kessler #6 of the USC Trojans looks to pass behind the protection from offensive tackle Chad Wheeler #72 of the USC Trojans during the first half at Alumni Stadium on September 13 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
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Chad Wheeler will not start at left tackle for USC in their opener against top-ranked Alabama, Clay Helton confirmed Monday night.

Instead, the head coach announced during a radio appearance, Chuma Edoga will be charged with protecting the blindside of the first-year starter at quarterback, Max Browne, against one of the top defensive lines in the country.  Wheeler has been dealing with a lingering foot injury — plantar fasciitis, to be specific — that’s kept him sidelined for most of summer camp.

Helton allowed that Wheeler could play “a couple of series” against the Tide, although that would, outside of an extreme emergency, seem unlikely.

Wheeler, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, has started 34 games the past three seasons.  As a true freshman last season, the 6-4, 290-pound Edoga started two games at right tackle and played in 13 games total.

Helton also announced that linebacker Osa Masina has been suspended for the opener and will not travel to Arlington for the neutral-field game.  Masina played in 12 games as a true freshman last season, and was credited with 25 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.  The highlight of his first season as a Trojan was a fumble return for a touchdown in the season-opening win over Arkansas State.

On the preseason depth chart released a week ago, Masina was listed as a backup to starting inside linebacker Michael Hutchings.