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

USC reportedly inks OC Tee Martin to multiyear extension to remain with the Trojans

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USC may look a lot different on offense without quarterback Sam Darnold, leading rusher Ronald Jones and star receiver Deontay Burnett on the field but the man calling the plays will still be around Troy in 2018.

According to both ESPN and Sports Illustrated, the Trojans have signed offensive coordinator Tee Martin to a multiyear extension that will keep him in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future sporting the cardinal and gold.

“I’m just excited to be here at USC, where the future is so bright, and working for somebody the caliber of Clay Helton,” Martin told ESPN. “There were some other opportunities, but you don’t leave USC for a lateral move. I want to help us get to that next level, and everything is in place here to do that.”

While Martin was expected to get into the mix at his alma mater of Tennessee when that job opened up this offseason, nothing serious ever happened with the former Vols quarterback who won the first ever BCS national championship some 20 years ago. He did however interview to become the Oakland Raiders head coach several weeks ago despite the team hiring Jon Gruden in the richest coaching deal in the sport’s history.

Martin has been with the program since 2012 when he was hired by Lane Kiffin. This will be his third season at USC as offensive coordinator, where he also serves as one of the team’s top recruiters. The Trojans are coming off a Pac-12 title last year that saw their offense average 484.1 yards per game and rank 13th in total offense among the FBS ranks.

Texas becomes first $200 million athletic department after record-setting 2017

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One of the lasting impacts of former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds was a now infamous quote when he quipped that the Longhorns were not just keeping  up with the Joneses, UT was the Joneses of college athletics. While some may take offense to that characterization, there’s no denying it when you look at the program’s bank account.

USA Today obtained Texas’ financial report to the NCAA for the 2017 fiscal year and not surprisingly the 40 Acres reeled in the most money (and spent it) in the country. Just how much did the cash cows bring in? Well, the Longhorns became the first department to cross the $200 million threshold in both operating revenue and operating expenses and setting a new benchmark in the process.

The report stated that UT brought in nearly $215 million in annual operating revenue last year and had total operating expenses of $207 million, big increases from 2016 when the school had “only” $188 million in revenue. Despite all that cash, the department actually had a deficit in 2017 though. While you may be incredulous at that fact given the figures involved, turns out the reason is because the athletic department made a $10.3 million transfer to the university proper that put them in the red instead of the black.

Technically, Big 12 rival Oklahoma State reported $241 million in revenue back in 2006 to be the first to cross the $200 million barrier but that was mostly the result of accounting practices that involved what USA Today describes as nearly $165 million in gifts from booster T. Boone Pickens for facility upgrades at the school.

Some other interesting figures from the report via the paper:

  • Ticket revenue was up $11.6 million to a total of $72.5 million, a figure that is more than any other school by nearly eight figures.
  • $42.4 million of the revenue was attributed to football (up from $37.4 million in 2016).
  • Severance pay at the school increased $5.7 million to a total of $9.2 million. $7.1 million of that latter figure was the result of Charlie Strong being fired by the school and his and his staff’s associated buyouts.

Pretty impressive to see all that burnt orange turn into green last year. Now just imagine how quick that cash register will be ringing if Tom Herman can guide the football team to a season that finishes better than 7-6.

Staffer-attacking Alabama LB one of four FBS players to officially transfer to FCS Tennessee State

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One of the more infamous figures from this year’s national championship game has officially found a new home.

Earlier this week, it was reported that linebacker Mekhi Brown, who drew a personal foul for punching a Georgia player in the title game shortly before going after a ‘Bama staffer on the sidelines, would be transferring to Tennessee State. Friday, the FCS school confirmed that Brown is one of four transfers from FBS programs who have been added to its football roster.

Prior to his departure, Brown had appeared in 12 games in 2017 as a redshirt sophomore for the Crimson Tide.

The other three FBS transfers added are linebacker Christion Abercrombie (Illinois), quarterback Demry Croft (Minnesota) and defensive back John Robinson IV (UConn).  As TSU is an FCS program, all four players will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

Brown’s nationally-televised outburst notwithstanding, Croft is actually the most noteworthy of the additions.  In his last year with the Gophers, Croft started the last six games of the regular season.  Perhaps the most noteworthy moment of his Gophers career, though, was posting a negative quarterback rating in a mid-November loss to Northwestern two weeks before he decided to transfer.

Croft will have two seasons of eligibility left.

Abercrombie, who has three years of eligibility, played in 11 games in 2017 for the Fighting Illini.  Robinson played in five games last season for the Huskies, and he too has three seasons of eligibility at his disposal.

After leaving Miami, Darrion Owens lands at Houston

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Nearly three weeks after leaving Miami, Darrion Owens has found himself a new college football home.

Friday, Houston confirmed that it was officially added Owens to second-year head coach Major Applewhite‘s roster.  As the linebacker joins the Cougars as a graduate transfer from The U, he can immediately bolster UH’s defense in 2018.

This coming season marks the Florida native’s final season of eligibility.

Owens joined the Hurricanes as a three-star 2014 recruit.  247Sports.com had him rated as the No. 30 outside linebacker in the country.

After playing in 12 games as a true freshman, Owens opened 2015 as a starter but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 2.  The past two seasons, Owens played in 25 games. In 13 games in 2017, he was credited with 35 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

In announcing Owens’ transfer from The U, head coach Mark Richt stated that, after the two had talked, “he informed me that he feels his best opportunity to get the most playing time would be at another school.”