Pick 6 Football

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

Hogs WR Keon Hatcher undergoes second surgery on same foot

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 5:  Keon Harcher #4 of the Arkansas Razorbacks catches a touchdown pass over Kalon Beverly #32 of the UTEP Miners at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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An injury that wiped out most of Keon Hatcher‘s 2015 season has resurfaced.

On social media over the weekend, Hatcher posted a video which revealed his left foot encased in a post-surgery boot.  WholeHogSports.com subsequently confirmed through multiple sources that Hatcher had indeed undergone surgery recently.

The website writes “[i]t’s unclear why Hatcher required the surgery or whether he will miss any practice or playing time because of the surgery.”  The university has thus far declined to address the receiver’s status, although head coach Bret Bielema could be expected to touch on the situation during a post-spring press conference Thursday.

During Arkansas’ Week 2 upset loss to Toledo, Hatcher suffered a broken left foot that at first was expected to sideline him for a minimum of six weeks but, following surgery, ultimately cost him the remainder of the season.

At the time of the injury, Hatcher was the Razorbacks’ leader with 198 receiving yards and two touchdowns.  In 2014, he led the team with 558 yards receiving and six touchdowns.

Hatcher received a medical hardship waiver for the 2015 season, which will allow him to return as a fifth-year senior this season.

QB Nick Johns decides to transfer from Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 25: A Virginia Cavaliers fan reacts to the Cavaliers being charged with a safety in the second quarter against the Boise State Broncos at Scott Stadium on September 25, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Seeing the writing on Virginia’s depth chart wall, Nick Johns has decided to take his leave of Charlottesville.

As more and more kids are doing these days — especially the cool ones — Johns took to Twitter to announce that he has decided to leave the Cavaliers football program and transfer to an undetermined elsewhere.  According to the quarterback, he was given an unrestricted release from his UVa. scholarship.

Johns, who is not related to returning Cavalier starting quarterback Matt Johns, was a three-star member of UVa.’s 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 19 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 5 player at any position in the District of Columbia. As he didn’t see the field as a true freshman, Johns’ main claim to fame during his brief time with the Cavaliers was a driving while intoxicated charged he accrued last August.

With Matt Johns and Connor Brewer, a Texas/Arizona transfer, in a dead-heat for the starting job exiting the spring, and former East Carolina starter Kurt Benkert added as a graduate transfer over the weekend, Nick Johns’ decision to leave for a better shot at playing time is understandable.

Wyoming basketball player gives up hoops to play football

BOISE, ID - OCTOBER 24: Head coach Craig Bohl of the Wyoming Cowboys rallies his team at the start of the fourth quarter of the game against the Boise State Broncos on October 24, 2015 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Boise State won the game 34-14. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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At the expense of its basketball team, Wyoming’s football team has made an early-May addition to its roster.

Austin Conway, a Cowboys basketball player, expressed a desire to play football earlier this year and was given clearance by both head coaches involved, Craig Bohl on the football side, Allen Edwards on the basketball side, to participate in spring practice.  With the 15 spring sessions now in the books, Conway has made his decision and will give up basketball in order to concentrate on football.

Conway, a Colorado high school quarterback, will play wide receiver at the collegiate level as well as return kicks for the Cowboys.

“I had nice long talks with Coach Bohl and Coach Edwards at the end of spring football,” said Conway in quotes distributed by the school. “Both coaches were very supportive. The biggest thing was I just had to follow my heart. I felt really comfortable being back out on the football field this spring. It felt like I was at home back on the field.”

Conway, who took a redshirt for the Cowboys basketball team as a true freshman in the 2015-16 season, will be eligible to play immediately in 2016 and will have four years of eligibility remaining.  The press release stated that the player’s “scholarship will be shifted from the basketball team to the football team beginning in the summer of 2016.”

As for his football credentials, here is the pertinent 411 from the release:

Conway was an outstanding football and basketball player at Overland High School in Aurora, Colo. He was named to The Denver Post’s All-Colorado team for all classifications as a dual-threat quarterback his senior season of 2014. During his senior season, he passed for 1,341 yards and 13 touchdowns and added 509 rushing yards and five rushing TDs. His junior season, Conway accumulated 1,847 passing yards and 1,130 rushing yards for 2,977 yards of total offense. He had a combined 31 touchdowns, 19 through the air and 12 on the ground. 

“Austin showed us during spring football that he has a passion for the game of football and that he had the skills to benefit our team moving forward,” said Bohl. “We were aware of Austin’s football accomplishments in high school. The fact that he has only been away from the game for a year we believe will make his transition a smooth one. He certainly benefitted from going through spring practice with us and will benefit from having a full summer to work with our strength and conditioning staff. We are excited to have Austin as a part of our team.

“Coach Edwards and I have been working together through this process to try and help Austin decide what is best for him. I want to thank Allen (Edwards) for his willingness to help Austin find the path that he feels is best for his future.

Kirby Smart, on competing against Nick Saban on recruiting trail: ‘I don’t look forward to that’

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Head coach Nick Saban and Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart of the Alabama Crimson Tide look on from the field during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Clemson Tigers at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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And, in related news, I don’t look forward to getting kicked in the testicles.

One of the more fascinating storylines leading up to National Signing Day was Nick Saban and his former right-hand man.  After nine years with Saban at Alabama, including the last eight as defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart struck out on his own to become the head coach at his alma mater Georgia.

As both are part of the SEC, their paths crossed more than a couple of times on the recruiting trail in the two months between Smart’s hiring between the hedges and signing day.  As al.com explained…

Alabama and Georgia went up against each other for multiple recruits in the final weeks of the 2016 recruiting cycle. Alabama signed Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson — two major UGA targets — while the Bulldogs flipped receiver Tyler Simmons away from the Crimson Tide. In the class of 2017, Smart flipped four-star quarterback Jake Fromm from Alabama and landed a commitment from one-time Alabama offensive line commit Netori Johnson.

… both the mentor and the protegé scored wins on the recruiting front.

It’ll be fun,” Smart said upon his hiring in early December when asked about going up against the recruiting juggernaut that is his former boss; two months later, after Saban had pulled in yet another top-ranked class — UGA was seventh in 247Sports.com‘s composite rankings — a couple of months ago, Smart has tweaked his tune.

“I said it would be fun? Oh man, I hope I didn’t say it would be fun,” Smart said on the SEC coaches teleconference earlier today. “I don’t look forward to that because I know Nick does a great job in recruiting. He’s very relentless; he does a really good job, and they have a great product to sell.”

Of course, 2016 wasn’t a one-off battle between the boss and the former employee, with work on the Class of 2017 in full swing.  At the moment, both the Bulldogs and Tide have nine commits each to next year’s class, with UGA, at No. 6, three spots behind UA.

Given the fact that the next signing day is still nine months away, Smart will have plenty of time to close that gap — or his boss will have plenty of time to widen it.