Predictions 101 — Week 4

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If we were Lane Kiffin, we’d blame the players, injuries or even the media. But alas we aren’t the faultless USC head coach, and we’ll accept responsibility for last week’s 2-5 record (both straight up and vs. “the number”).

Speaking of Kiffin, we had a bead on his Trojans faltering at Stanford, but ultimately didn’t have enough guts to call for the full-scale upset. There’s no glory in predicting that the Trojans won’t cover. That’s a weekly certainty. But when we only land a pair, we cherish it.

Last week’s official upset call (Virginia over Georgia Tech) spectacularly went up in flames. The home office in Burbank, which currently handles the value-laden longshots, promises to do better this time around. With the extra assistance, those should most always get you across the line in good shape.

It’s a good slate of “ranked vs. ranked” this week, hopefully we can rise to the occasion.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thursday, Sept. 20, thru Saturday, Sept. 22)

1) No. 10 Clemson at No. 4 Florida State
Sat., Sept. 22 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

The Seminole defense is allowing a single point per game. When an elite program opens against Murray State and Savannah State that sort of stonewalling is not a shock. But, last week’s 52-0 rout of Wake Forest, a team that had taken four of the last six meetings, was a bit of a surprise and signals that Florida State is definitely for real.

With upset alerts and full-blown stunners littering the college football landscape each week, there’s something to be said for a team that goes about its undefeated business to the tune of 176-3.

This defensive display isn’t anything entirely new. The Seminoles now have held 11 consecutive opponents to 19 points or less.

Perhaps it’s both good and bad news for the Tigers that FSU’s under-20 streak began after back-to-back 35-30 losses on the road at Clemson and Wake Forest last year.

The biggest threat to the Seminole end zone is Tiger wideout Sammy Watkins, who warmed up in a 41-7 victory over Furman after serving a two-game suspension. Last season, Watkins caught seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns versus Florida State.

Fourth and fifth on Jimbo Fisher’s list of worries — Tajh Boyd and Andre Ellington are second and third — are pass protection and short-yardage rushing efficiency. Both stem from uncertainties along an offensive line that allowed the Demon Deacons to sack quarterback E.J. Manuel three times.

Coach Corso will be right to back his alma mater by putting on a headdress out in the parking lot, but it’ll be “closer than the experts think.”

Opening point spread: Florida State by 13

The pick: Florida State 26-24

2) No. 18 Michigan at No. 11 Notre Dame
Sat., Sept. 22 — 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC

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

For the Fighting Irish to do something that hasn’t happened since 2008 — beat the Wolverines — they must do what seems nearly impossible to them, bottle up Denard Robinson.

Off to its best start in a decade, Notre Dame is thinking BCS, even though it hasn’t lit up the scoreboard. What has been impressive is a defense led by linebacker Manti Te’o, who had 12 tackles in last week’s 20-3 signature win at Michigan State while grieving the loss of his grandmother and girlfriend.

In this game, the Irish defense, which is allowing only 10 points a game, would like to avoid last season’s fourth-quarter meltdown that saw Michigan score 28 points and cash in the game winner with just two seconds left.

Against Alabama in the opener, we saw what a disciplined talented defense can do to the Wolverine offense. Now, Notre Dame is not Alabama, but the Irish aren’t slouches either, ranking 18th in total defense, 8th in scoring, 11th in turnover margin and 10th in sacks.

The Irish are capable of forcing Robinson to throw it. We know Notre Dame losing safety Jamoris Slaughter to a season-ending Achilles injury hampers an already inexperienced backfield, but Te’o and the rest of the front seven can get Michigan into third-and-long situations, create takeaways and keep Robinson’s shoelaces in the pocket.

Making the Wolverines try to win through the air will land another huge W for the Irish.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 3 1/2

The pick: Notre Dame 31-16

3) No. 22 Arizona at No. 3 Oregon
Sat., Sept. 22 — 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Ducks and Cats combined for 87 points in last year’s matchup, a 56-31 Oregon victory in Tucson. This season, with Rich Rodriguez now in the saddle at Arizona, both teams are averaging roughly 600 yards in total offense. With all of that being the case, the only upset here is that the over/under opened at merely 75 points in this high-powered heavyweight battle of read-option offenses.

Both attacks are triggered by new starters. Duck redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota is completing 75.5 percent of his passes, which is just a shade better than his senior counterpart Matt Scott, who is connecting at a 71.5 percent clip. The fight for efficiency supremacy should be entertaining.

We won’t put a whole lot of weight on Arizona’s 56-0 whipping of South Carolina State last week, but you have to hand it to the Wildcats for not thinking that they deserved the weekend off after their impressive 59-38 victory over Oklahoma State. The UofA spread worked its way to 43 first downs.

Oregon also had its way with an overmatched opponent last week, but the Ducks’ 12 penalties and three turnovers in a routine 63-14 victory over Tennessee Tech showed a lack of focus.

Last year, in their first conference game on the road, the Wildcats went to Los Angeles and pushed USC to brink before falling, 48-41. They’ve got it in them to bear down once again and they’re new & improved. But Chip Kelly has taken Rodriguez’ offense to such an incredible place that it’s hard to imagine him slipping up at Autzen Stadium … or anywhere.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 26 1/2

The pick: Oregon 52-35

4) No. 15 Kansas State at No. 6 Oklahoma
Sat., Sept. 22 — 7:50 p.m. ET, FOX

The chasm between these two teams was massive last year. On their way to a 58-17 victory, the visiting Sooners rolled up 690 yards of total offense, including 520 through the air. Although the Wildcats did hold a lead in the second quarter, they weren’t really heard from offensively, totaling just 240 yards.

This has been somewhat of a habit for Oklahoma, which has taken the last five in the series and eight of the last nine.

In his previous two games versus the Wildcats, Sooner quarterback Landry Jones passed for 799 yards and nine touchdowns, without being sacked a single time. Kansas State appears to be gearing up to change that, having registered eight sacks in their last two games, led by defensive end Adam Davis.

Conversely, the Sooner defensive line will focus on stopping a KSU rushing attack that is averaging 252 yards per game. When Oklahoma cuts off running back John Hubert and quarterback Collin Klein on the ground, and forces Klein to the air, it’ll be another long day for the Wildcats.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 17

The pick: Oklahoma 41-21

5) No. 2 LSU at Auburn
Sat., Sept. 22 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

If we were ever going to have a SEC-less week here at P101 this would have been it. But this matchup featuring recent BCS champs snuck in just under the wire.

There’s not much to report though. Auburn finally putting up a tally in the win column with last week’s overtime decision over Louisiana-Monroe didn’t do anything but further confirm the fact that these two Tigers are headed in opposite directions.

LSU is working on a 16-game regular-season winning streak, while Auburn is hoping to avoid its first 1-3 start since 1998.

A few more starters would have to join injured running back Alfred Blue on the sidelines before we’d even begin considering Auburn’s ability to break its five-game losing streak versus ranked opposition, which includes last year’s 45-10 faceplant in Death Valley.

Opening point spread: LSU by 18 1/2

The pick: LSU 37-14

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Fresno State at Tulsa
Sat., Sept. 22 — 8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

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

Pat Hill is gone, but his schedule loaded with trips to top notch programs remains. This Tulsa squad, however, isn’t as good as in years past and is surely several steps down from what the Bulldogs faced at Oregon in a 42-25 defeat two weeks ago.

After easy wins over Tulane and Nicholls State, the Golden Hurricane’s three-game homestand is capped by this tough test against a squad that was on pace to hit the century mark against hapless Colorado last week before the dogs were called off.

Powered by potent rushing attacks, both squads are hovering around 44 points per game, while allowing the opposition to score about half that.

Tulsa has spread the wealth with a different tailback eclipsing the century mark in each for its three games.

Fresno State, on the other hand, has relied heavily on its newly crowned all-time leading rusher, Robbie Rouse, who has also rushed for 115 yards or more in each game this season.

Both defenses have been making plays as well. Tulsa leads the nation with 10.7 tackles for loss per game and is second in sacks at 5.7. Meanwhile, Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas returned two of his three interceptions against Colorado for scores.

The Bulldog defensive unit that gave Oregon fits two weeks ago (11 tackles for loss and three takeaways) will be the difference going against Golden Hurricane quarterback Cody Green, who tossed a pair of interceptions in the 38-23 loss at Iowa State in the opener.

Opening point spread: Tulsa by 6 1/2

The pick: Fresno State 34-27

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

New Mexico at New Mexico State
Sat., Sept. 22 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN3

Hey, this might not be the Iron Bowl, but you gotta give props to an in-state rivalry that predates its statehood by 18 years.

Unsurprisingly, the Aggies are considerable favorites in this 103rd renewal of the Rio Grande Rivalry, which dates all the way back to 1894. The Lobos have won only a single game in each of their previous three seasons.

On the bright side for New Mexico, it’s in position for improvement after thrashing visiting Southern University, 66-21, in the opener.

But the schedule tightened up quite a bit after Bob Davie’s debut as the Lobos got laid out on the road by Texas (45-0) and Texas Tech (49-14). This will be New Mexico’s third consecutive game away from Albuquerque. If we weren’t talking about a short-haul rivalry game that would be cause for extreme concern.

New Mexico State has followed a similar pattern this season, opening with an easy win over Sacramento State, before dropping a pair on the road at Ohio and UTEP.

Davie is putting his stamp on the Lobos, who are averaging 212 rushing yards per game. That’s rather healthy, considering the competition they’ve faced. It’s also more than double what the Aggies have been able to muster on the ground (95 yards per game).

It’ll be close, but the Lobos’ drive home along I-25 will be an unpleasant one as the Aggies notch their fourth consecutive victory in the series.

Opening point spread: New Mexico State by 8 1/2

The pick: New Mexico State 26-23

Suspended Mich. St. staffer receives one-MONTH contract extension

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A disturbing situation in East Lansing has added a head-scratching twist.

According to ESPN.com, and by way of a Freedom of Information request, Michigan State football staffer Curtis Blackwell was on the receiving end of a one-month contract extension earlier this month.  Blackwell, whose title with the football program is director of college advancement and performance, was set to see his contract expire at the end of this week.

What makes this development noteworthy is that Blackwell has been indefinitely suspended by the Spartans since early February.

Around that time, it was confirmed by the university that three still-unnamed MSU football players had been suspended after allegations of sexual assault were made against them last month.  An unnamed football staffer was suspended at the time as well; that staffer was subsequently identified as Blackwell.

A police investigation, as well as a Title IX probe, into the allegations continue.  Blackwell is not accused of participating in the alleged sexual assault, but rather a non-sexual crime that’s connected to the investigation.

Mark Dantonio hadn’t spoken publicly about the allegations until earlier this week, and the head coach probably would’ve been better served to have kept it that way.

A&M, UCLA both add New Mexico to future schedules

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Texas A&M and UCLA announced Wednesday that their 2017 opener had been moved from Saturday to Sunday.  As it turns out, that wasn’t the only scheduling news connecting the two football programs.

As part of a release announcing seven games being added to its future schedules, New Mexico confirmed that two of those contests will include A&M and UCLA.  Both of those games, obviously, will be on the road, with the Lobos traveling to College Station Sept. 18, 2021, and to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Sept. 13, 2025.

In its release, the school wrote that “[t]he game in College Station has a guarantee of $1,100,000 and 450 complementary tickets,” while “[t]he game in Pasadena has a guarantee of $1,200,000 plus 2,000 complementary tickets that UNM can sell for extra revenue.”

The last and only time New Mexico and UCLA squared off was in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl, a 27-13 win for the Bruins.  UNM and A&M actually completed a home-and-home series relatively recently, with the Aggies winning both games played in the 2008 (28-22) and 2009 (41-6) seasons.

In addition to the future Power Five games, a continuation of the long-running rivalry with UTEP will be extended.  UNM will play in El Paso in 2021, then host UTEP in 2022.  Those two games will mark the 79th and 80th contests in the regional rivalry.

Michigan State, Washington round out future schedules with Utah State

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Needing to fill a single spot in some future schedules, both Michigan State and Washington have come calling to the Mountain West for an opponent. Utah State was happy to oblige.

Michigan State will host Utah State on September 1, 2018. The Aggies will travel to Washington on September 19, 2020. For their travels, Utah State will collect $2.9 million between the two games, according to FBScheduels.com ($1.4 million from Michigan State, $1.5 million from Washington).

The Big Ten and Pac-12 each use nine-game conference schedules, leaving three spots open for non-conference games. The Big Ten requires all conference members schedule one game per season against another power conference opponent (the Pac-12 has no such requirement of its members at this time), although exceptions are made. Utah State, as a member of the Mountain West Conference, would not satisfy that requirement for the Big Ten, but the Spartans already have a road game against Arizona State (Pac-12) on the schedule in 2018. Michigan State and Arizona State will play again in 2019 in East Lansing. Michigan State also has future power conference matchups with Notre Dame (2017, 2026, 2027) and Miami (2020, 2021). Michigan State will also play BYU in 2020 in Provo.

Washington has future power conference matchups with Rutgers (2017), Auburn (2018, in Atlanta), and Michigan (2020, 2021). The Huskies will also face Mountain West Competition from Fresno State (2017), Hawaii (2019), and Nevada (2027).

Utah State will face power conference opponents on the road in 2017 (Wisconsin, Wake Forest), 2018 (Michigan State), 2019 (Wake Forest, LSU), 2020 (Washington), and 2021 (Washington State). Utah State will also host Washington State in 2020 as part of a home-and-home deal. Utah State also has an annual series against BYU running through 2020.

Old Dominion hopes to “hit the ground running” on new stadium project

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Some fans of the Old Dominion football program may be getting a little impatient with the progress (or lack of) in the development of the football stadium, but Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig says things are coming along nicely and progress will start to be seen soon enough.

“Once we get the architects engaged, we’ll figure out what $55 million will buy in 2019 dollars,” Selig said, according to The Virginian-Pilot. “Then we’ll have an idea for how much additional money needs to be raised to support the project.”

Old Dominion is planning on tearing down Foreman Field at the end of the 2018 season and rebuild it with modern seating and amenities. The $55 million project remained on the books in the Virginia budget in February, allowing the university to move ahead with their plans. The first step is finding an architect to take on the job.

Because Old Dominion’s football stadium is among the smallest in the nation and will remain so even after the rebuild and renovations, the entire project is expected to move fairly swiftly once the work actually begins. Old Dominion isn’t building a grand football palace, so any concerns over the lack of updates on the stadium should be calmed.

If nothing else, the concerns raised about the lack of updates on the stadium renovations may just mean Old Dominion has some eager fans excited about the future of the program.