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

Lincoln Riley strips Baker Mayfield of captaincy, Mayfield will start WVU game on sideline

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Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield caused a stir with his antics during a road win at Kansas on Saturday, and Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley is addressing it this week. Riley announced Mayfield will not be a team captain for Oklahoma’s game against West Virginia this week, and Mayfield will start the game on the sideline instead of on the field.

Not having Mayfield as a team captain for the game will prevent him from being on the field for the pregame coin flip. Mayfield’s eventful afternoon at Kansas got started with a pregame handshake kerfuffle and later devolved to some trash talking with Kansas fans and obscene gestures directed at Kansas players following a touchdown. None of what Oklahoma is doing this week against West Virginia will necessarily prevent any similar events from happening, but it is somewhat interesting to see.

How long Mayfield stays on the sideline against the Mountaineers was not determined. It could be one half, one quarter, one series or just one play. Regardless of the length of this form of discipline, Mayfield enters some pretty uncharted territory for a Heisman Trophy favorite, and now he will be suspended for the start of a regular season game late in the season. Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston are recent Heisman Trophy winners to serve a suspension during the regular season, but those suspensions were served the year following winning the Heisman Trophy. Could Mayfield be the first Heisman Trophy winner to serve some form of suspension during the same regular season?

We’ll find out soon enough.

Oklahoma hosts West Virginia at 3:45 p.m. ET this Saturday.

Michigan QB Brandon Peters in concussion protcol, leaving Ohio State game in question

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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed starting quarterback Brandon Peters has been entered into the concussion protocol after being taken out of Saturday’s road loss at Wisconsin. Because of the concussion protocol, it is unknown if Peters will be available for Michigan’s regular-season finale at home on Saturday against Ohio State.

“He’ll be evaluated again by the doctors this week to see if he would be cleared for contact,” Harbaugh said, according to The Detroit News. “[John O’Korn] has remained diligent every single week to preparation and the game plan, always sitting on a spring ready to play.”

If Peters is unavailable for Saturday, the offense will be placed back in the hands of O’Korn. Wilton Speight has not been cleared to for contact practices yet as he continues to recover from fractured vertebrae earlier this season.

Michigan’s offense seemed to get a much-needed jolt when Peters was inserted in the offense in place of O’Korn, who had also replaced an injured Speight. Without Peters, Michigan’s offense has not been able to find much offensive success this season, and that could pose a significant problem this week against the rival Buckeyes, who will be playing to remain on the College Football Playoff radar.

Illinois and Missouri announce four-year home-and-home agreement

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The rivalry between Illinois and Missouri may not be among the most storied of rivalries in college football, and it has only been played 24 times since first meeting in 1896. Still, there is something that just feels right about seeing Missouri and Illinois playing football, and starting in 2026 we will see the Illini and Tigers on an annual basis for four consecutive seasons.

On Monday, Illinois and Missouri announced a new scheduling agreement for a four-game series that will begin in 2026. Barring any unforseen changes to the agreement, Illinois and Missouri will each host two games between 2026 and 2029 with the home site alternating each season.

Illinois will host Missouri on Sep. 26, 2026 and again on Sep. 16, 2028. Missouri will play host on Sep. 18, 2027 and in the fourth game of the agreement on Sep. 15, 2029.

As both the Big Ten and SEC have a scheduling requirement to play at least one opponent from a power conference or power conference equivalent each year, this four-game agreement will satisfy those requirements for both Illinois and Missouri. Illinois already had the requirement in the Big Ten satisfied in 2026 with a home game against Duke, but these are the first games scheduled from 2027 through 2029. These are also the first games on the books for Missouri from 2026 through 2029, so their requirement is fulfilled years in advance as well.

“We are pleased to reestablish the football rivalry series against Missouri,” Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said in a released statement. “As our football program advances, it is important that we build our nonconference schedule accordingly. The opportunity to compete against an opponent from the Southeastern Conference and to play a geographic rival like Missouri will be exciting for our players, coaches, and fans.”

Illinois and Missouri last played in 2010 in the final game of a neutral field series that had been played in St. Louis from 2002 through 2010. The Tigers won all seven of those matchups and Missouri leads the all-time series 17-7. When the series does resume, it will be good to see it being played on campus sites as opposed to an NFL stadium that will have been abandoned for football purposes for a decade.

Alabama is now even money to win the national championship, per Bovada

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As college football comes down the finish line of the regular season, the Alabama Crimson Tide remain the clear favorite to win it all this season. The updated championship odds from Bovada list Alabama at even money to win the College Football Playoff national championship.

Alabama may still be the favorite, but Oklahoma’s odds continue to look enticing. With the Heisman Trophy frontrunner in Baker Mayfield, the Sooners are on track for a possible Big 12 championship that would send them surging into the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma currently has the second-best odds on the board, followed by Ohio State. The Buckeyes, with two losses, are being given significantly better odds of winning it all than the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers, who Ohio State will face in the Big Ten championship game next week. The bettors simply do not buy in on the Badgers.

Wisconsin has worst odds on the board than the ACC Championship Game participants, Clemson and Miami, and Alabama’s opponent this week, Auburn, and the SEC East champion Georgia Bulldogs. All of those teams have identical +900 odds this week.

Still think UCF can run the table? If they do, you’ll be in for a pretty grand payday with +50,000 odds of winning it all.

Here are the latest championship odds from Bovada as of today:

  • Alabama – EVEN
  • Oklahoma +475
  • Ohio State +700
  • Clemson +900
  • Miami +900
  • Auburn +900
  • Georgia +900
  • Wisconsin +1200
  • USC +7500
  • TCU +10000
  • Notre Dame +15000
  • UCF +50000