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

Lamar Jackson given key to city of Florida hometown

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Before he was a Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson was still the greatest football player to come out of Pompano Beach, Fla.

Jackson played for Boynton Beach High School, where he was a 4-year starter, but became the first player ever from the city of 99,000 people just north of Fort Lauderdale to win the Lou Groza Award High School Player of the Year in 2014.

He then matriculated to Louisville where he, of course, won the most prestigious individual award in sports just two years later.

Over the weekend, Jackson was given the key to his hometown.

Thank you to the city of pompano beach key to the city🔑🔑🙏🏾🙏🏾

A post shared by Lamar Jackson (@new_era8) on

Jackson completed 230-of-409 passes for 3,543 yards with 30 touchdowns against nine interceptions while rushing 250 times for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore for Louisville in 2016.

Former Michigan AD Jim Hackett named Ford CEO

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Both of Michigan’s two most recent athletics directors traded their maize and blue for the suits of corporate America. Dave Brandon left Ann Arbor for Toys ‘R’ Us in relative disgrace. Jim Hackett left Michigan a hero and has now taken the reins of another Michigan institution.

The former Michigan interim AD on Monday was named the CEO of Ford Motor Company.

“We’re moving from a position of strength to transform Ford for the future,” executive chairman Bill Ford said in a statement. “Jim Hackett is the right CEO to lead Ford during this transformative period for the auto industry and the broader mobility space. He’s a true visionary who brings a unique, human-centered leadership approach to our culture, products and services that will unlock the potential of our people and our business.”

After successfully completing the coup to bring Jim Harbaugh home, Hackett will now be in charge of leading a company of 202,000 employees from its Dearborn, Mich., headquarters.

The man whom Hackett hired thinks Ford made a great move.

“I absolutely think (it’s a good fit),” Harbaugh told MLive. “He brings a tremendous wealth of experience and he has tremendous leadership skills. He believes in — the way I put it — in building a ball team. And he does it with a really high intellect. He cares about people, he listens.”

This is not Hackett’s first foray as a business CEO. He previously served as CEO of Steelcase in Grand Rapids, Mich., from 1994-2014.

Rimington watch list details list of returning centers

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It’s the dead time of the college football calendar, which means it’s time for this sport’s oldest, most antiquated tradition: watch lists.

First one in line is the Rimington Trophy, given to the best center in college football. And to help voters narrow down their choice for when voting picks up six months from now, the Rimington has helpfully provided this watch list of essentially every returning starting center in college football.

The 2017 list includes (deep breath):

– Aaron Mitchell, Fresno State
– Alan Knott, South Carolina
– Alac Eberle, Florida State
– Antonyo Woods, Florida Atlantic
– Asotui Eli, Hawaii
– Austin Doan, Central Michigan
– Austin Golson, Auburn
– Austin Schlottmann, TCU
– Billy Price, Ohio State
– Blaise Fountain, New Mexico
– Brad Lundblade, Oklahoma State
– Brad North, Northwestern
– Bradley Bozeman, Alabama
– Brendan Moore, Maryland
– Brian Allen, Michigan State
– Bryce Holland, Army
– Cameron Ruff, South Florida
– Chandler Miller, Tulsa
– Coleman Shelton, Washington
– Colton Prater, Texas A&M
– Danny Godloveske, Miami (Ohio)
– Dennis Edwards, Western Kentucky
– Drew Keyser, Memphis
– Erick Wren, Oklahoma
– Evan Brown, SMU
– Frank Ragnow, Arkansas
– Gabe Mobley, Georgia State
– Garrett McGhin, East Carolina
– Jake Bennett, Colorado State
– Jake Hanson, Oregon
– Jake Pruehs, Ohio
– James Daniels, Iowa
– James O’Hagan, Buffalo
– Jesse Burkett, Stanford
– John Keenoy, Western Michigan
– Jon Baker, Boston College
– Julian Good-Jones, Iowa State
– Keoni Taylor, San Jose State
– LaVonne Gauthney, Akron
– Levi Brown, Marshall
– Luke Shively, Northern Illinois
– Mason Hampton, Boise State
– Matt Hennessy, Temple
– Mesa Ribordy, Kansas
– Michael Deiter, Wisconsin
– Nathan Puthoff, Kent State
– Nick Allegretti, Illinois
– Nick Clarke, Old Dominion
– Reid Najvar, Kansas State
– Ryan Anderson, Wake Forest
– Sam Mustipher, Notre Dame
– Scott Quessenberry, UCLA
– Sean Krepsz, Nevada
– Sean Rawlings, Ole Miss
– Sumner Houston, Oregon State
– T.J. McCoy, Florida
– Tanner Thrift, Baylor
– Tejan Koroma, BYU
– Tim McAullife, Bowling Green
– Trey Martin, Rice
– Will Clapp, LSU
– Will Noble, Houston
– Zach Shackelford, Texas

Exhale.

Got all that?

Ohio State’s Pat Elflein claimed the honor last season.

Miami OT Sunny Odogwu leaving The U as graduate transfer

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Miami’s offensive line is losing a key piece up front this coming season. On Monday, the Miami program announced the departure of offensive tackle Sunny Odogwu, a starter at right tackle.

Despite having started 14 games for the Hurricanes, it seems Odogwu is looking for a better opportunity to start with another FBS program.

“Sunny and I had a good conversation, and he informed me that he feels his best opportunity to get the most playing time would be at another school,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said in a released statement. “Sunny has been a great teammate and leader for this program, and we will miss him.”

Odogwu is coming off surgery for a right knee injury late last season. After starting 12 games for the Hurricanes, Odogwu was forced to miss Miami’s bowl game and later was limited in spring practice drills. Odogwu had to undergo surgery for a right knee injury late in the 2015 season as well.

Odogwu has already graduated from Miami, so he will be eligible to play immediately next fall with another FBS program as a graduate transfer. Tyree St. Louis appears to have a stranglehold on the starting job at right tackle for the Hurricanes moving forward after a good showing in the spring.