Predictions 101 — Week 5

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We went 4-3 last week (both straight up and vs. “the number”), but feel left out.

How come only the fortunate folks who do this sort of thing for NFL games, get to have fun with the wild card of ridiculous replacement refs? Hey, we’d like to go on rants and blame our losses on officiating too.

Oh well.

Is it just us or does the college football season seem like it’s fast-forwarding away? Here we are at Week 5 already.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Sept. 27, thru Sat., Sept. 29)

1) No. 25 Baylor at No. 9 West Virginia
Sat., Sept. 29 — noon ET, FX

It’s all been building up to this for the Mountaineers, who are making their Big 12 debut. And the Bears have been holding up their end rather well, perhaps unexpectedly.

Some doubted Baylor’s ability to soldier on without Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Terrance Ganaway and wideout Kendall Wright, but Nick Florence has stepped up admirably, throwing for at least 312 yards and three scores in all three games this season.

On the flip side, the West Virginia offense led by quarterback Geno Smith has lived up to its lofty preseason hype. With 1,072 passing yards, 12 touchdown passes and zero interceptions on Smith’s resume so far, he is the Heisman frontrunner.

Along with wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, Smith has to be licking his chops. The prospect of a team that’s allowing 492.7 yards per game coming into Morgantown for the first time is quite inviting and could signal a landslide of points.

Baylor, which is averaging 51.3 points per game (fifth in the nation), should generate some success of its own against a West Virginia defense that allowed Maryland to pass for 305 yards and convert on half of its 14 third-down attempts in a closer-than-expected 31-21 victory last Saturday. We just don’t expect it to be nearly enough.

The Bears are 0-25 versus ranked Big 12 foes on the road and don’t figure to break through on Mountaineer Field.

Opening point spread: West Virginia by 10

The pick: West Virginia 45-27

2) No. 14 Ohio State at No. 20 Michigan State
Sat., Sept. 29 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

This is as good as it gets for the Big Ten at this point, but it sadly feels so incomplete.

Spartan signalcaller Andrew Maxwell has been underwhelming so far, but a sloppy fleet of receivers should share the blame. Thankfully for Michigan State, running back Le’Veon Bell has held up his end of the bargain, grinding out 152.5 yards per game (although only 77 versus Notre Dame).

Perhaps that group will find its groove against a Buckeye defense that’s far below its usual caliber, ranking last in the B1G in yards allowed (394.8).

Michigan State’s defense, on the other hand, leads the league in every major statistical category. That includes surrendering just 69.3 yards per game on the ground.

Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde, who has recovered from a sprained knee, have their sights set on rushing for many more yards than that, but it remains to be seen … just like the overall revival expected under the direction of Urban Meyer.

Perhaps they’ve been waiting for this stage to make a statement.

Opening point spread: Even

The pick: Ohio State 24-23

3) No. 12 Texas at Oklahoma State
Sat., Sept. 29 — 7:50 p.m. ET, FOX

Both teams had last week off to look forward to this one.

They also had an opportunity to look around the country and see who was doing what, especially teams they’ve played recently. What each camp saw was quite different.

Last time out, the Longhorns wrecked Ole Miss, 66-31. The Rebels, however, bounced back last week with a 39-0 victory at Tulane. RPI geeks love that stuff!

The Cowboys, on the other hand, are still smarting from a 59-38 loss at Arizona on Sept. 8. Watching those same Wildcats get melted down by Oregon, 49-0, last Saturday must have been pure agony for Mike Gundy.

Oddly enough, Texas visiting Stillwater isn’t the worst thing in the world for Oklahoma State. Although the Cowboys have won only four of the 26 games in the series, half of those victories have come in the last two years.

Most of the early talk about this matchup has focused on who’ll be behind center for OSU, but we won’t quibble either way without that knowledge. Whether it’s Wes Lunt at less than 100 percent or J.W. Walsh, we’re still talking about a young player who hasn’t yet got a taste for the big-time in primetime. No matter who takes the snaps, capable Cowboy running back Joseph Randle will have to carry a large portion of the mail against the Longhorn defense.

Texas’ quarterbacking isn’t in question. Sophomore David Ash has been sensational so far this season, completing 76 percent of his passes, with seven touchdown tosses and zero interceptions. However, astronomical passer ratings built at the expense of Wyoming, New Mexico and Ole Miss don’t really get us going enough to envision a win on the road for the Longhorns, who have won just six league games in the previous two seasons.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma State by 5 1/2

The pick: Oklahoma State 37-31

4) No. 18 Oregon State at Arizona
Sat., Sept. 29 — 10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

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

Utilizing good blue-collar football to produce two wins over ranked teams, while holding a pair of Heisman Trophy contending running backs to just 61 and 45 yards on the ground, Oregon State has been impressive and we are Beaver believers.

Oddsmakers aren’t as sold. We aren’t sure if they realize that the Beavs have taken six in a row from the Cats in Tucson.

Coach Mike Riley has the defense to do it again. Oregon State defenders are disciplined in their assignments, limit big plays and tackle well. However, the Arizona offense will see more production within the comfortable confines of the Zona Zoo.

We have to understand that the Oregon defense played well in last week’s 49-0 cruise past Arizona, but the football Gods also were smiling down on the Ducks. The Cats really set themselves up for the shutout by botching a field goal that would have put the first points on the board. In the end, they had six fruitless trips into the red zone and four turnovers.

That won’t happen two weeks in a row. The Arizona offense will get back into rhythm and Oregon State is in for a fight.

One might wonder how the Beavers will counter the Cats’ speedy 3-3-5 defense, which limited Oregon to just 13 first-half points. They’ll use freshman running back Storm Woods to control the pace, wear the UofA D down and win on a last-second score.

Opening point spread: Arizona by 3

The pick: Oregon State 33-31

5) Tennessee at No. 5 Georgia
Sat., Sept. 29 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

It’s a bit of unfamiliar territory for the SEC’s marquee matchup to be this far down the P101 list. But most of that has to do with us being unable to trust a Volunteer defense that has been prone to give up big plays.

That bad habit won’t serve them well against a Bulldog offense triggered by Aaron Murray and powered by freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, which hasn’t scored less than 41 points in any game this season.

Not only is Georgia fresh off an impressive 48-3 victory over Vanderbilt, it might (only Mark Richt knows for sure) regain the services of safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree, who have been sidelined by suspension since the start of the campaign.

The Bulldog defense has been stout, but some reinforcements would help in the effort to slow down the effectiveness of Vol quarterback Tyler Bray, who has the luxury of two show-stopping wideouts in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Opening point spread: Georgia by 15 1/2

The pick: Georgia 38-27

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

No. 17 Clemson at Boston College
Sat., Sept. 29 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

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

For the second time in three weeks, the P101-USOTW suffered a one-point defeat courtesy of a kicker failing in spectacular fashion. We’ll safeguard against that happening again by leaning on the leg of Eagle placekicker Nate Freese, who has connected on all 15 of his attempts this season (seven field goals and eight PATs).

Despite a 1-2 record, Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig has settled in nicely in his third year on Chestnut Hill, tossing just one interception while leading the ACC with 317 passing yards per game. He should continue his prolific connection with junior wide receiver Alex Amidon to give the Eagles scoring opportunities against a Clemson defense that was picked apart for 380 passing yards by Florida State’s E.J. Manuel last week.

After getting the better of the Seminoles for nearly three quarters, the Tigers will have to regroup from a devastating loss, which is much easier said than done. Last year, Clemson pulled a Clemson, going into a swoon that saw it go 2-3 the rest of the way after suffering its first defeat.

The Eagle defense features the nation’s leading tackler in senior linebacker Nick Clancy. He can help muck things up to produce a result similar to their 16-10 victory at Alumni Field two years ago.

Perhaps this is more “under” than upset.

Opening point spread: Clemson by 11

The pick: Boston College 19-13

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Houston vs. Rice (at Reliant Stadium)
Sat., Sept. 29 — 3:30 p.m. ET,

Separated by less than five miles, the warring factions in the Bayou Bucket Classic are as close as you’ll find at the FBS level.

Last year’s matchup, however, wasn’t close at all, as Houston accounted for 73 of the game’s 107 points.

Rice’s defense seems intent on repeating that limp performance. The Owls currently rank dead last in the country in scoring defense, allowing nearly 46 points per game.

But they won’t have to deal with Case Keenum this time. In fact, Rice might have the more effective offense.

Houston has turned the football over 10 times already this season, which is one of the reasons the Cougars have yet to hold a lead over anyone.

The Bayou Bucket hasn’t stayed in the same place since the Cougars won three in a row from 2005 to 2007. It’s the Owls’ turn to take it over to their side of town.

Opening point spread: Houston by 7

The pick: Rice 35-34

ESPN analyst: Jimbo Fisher called Texas A&M soft, vowed to change the program

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If there was one thing that really seemed to put Kevin Sumlin on the hot seat during his time at Texas A&M, it was the Aggies seemingly annual collapse in the second half of the season and inability to finish games they had the potential to win. That explains some of the reason why the school ponied up to lure Jimbo Fisher from Florida State in a $75 million hire late last year.

While most of the outside focus on Fisher’s move to College Station has been centered on that humongous contract, there’s little question that hiring a national title-winning coach was a coup for the team. That subject was brought up again on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show Friday evening and ESPN college football analyst Booger McFarland relayed a rather interesting conversation he had with the coach earlier this year in which Fisher said something you typically don’t hear made public. You can head to the 8:18 mark (or there abouts) for the interview.

“I talked to Jimbo in Atlanta. I told Jimbo point-blank — the same thing I told you guys about Texas A&M the last several years — A&M is a soft program,” McFarland said. “Jimbo looked me in the eye and was like, ‘You know what, you’re damn right. We are soft, but I’m going to change that.’”

Something says that Fisher and the Aggies strength coaches are going to use the comments as a bit of a challenge in the weight room and during spring practice over the coming months as they lay the groundwork for the 2018 season. Even the most ardent maroon and white supporters would probably agree with the sentiment that the team went a little soft toward the end of Sumlin’s tenure but it’s not everyday you see a coach call out his new program quite like that.

Maybe it’s something in the water down there in College Station though, judging by some other comments by the school’s athletic director, but one thing is for certain — things are going to be very different at Texas A&M going forward.

Scott Frost wants Nebraska football roster to grow to 150 players or more in 2018

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In the days before you were limited to 85 scholarship players, it was not totally uncommon to see teams stock their rosters full of players and wind up in the triple-digits with close to 200 players on a team. Even after the NCAA mandated a limit of 85 scholarships, roster sizes were still not that much smaller when you factored in walk-ons and others on a squad.

It appears Scott Frost wants to get back to those sort of days in Lincoln and is apparently pushing the school to help him expand the Cornhuskers roster right into the 150 range.

“I’d like to accommodate (Frost’s) desire” to expand the roster, athletic director Bill Moos said this week in an interview with Rivals’ HuskerOnline. “But we do have that issue with Title IX” along with locker room facilities challenges, organized practice schedules, and other daily management nuts and bolts to sort through.

“Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team…a lot of walk-ons. I’d like to get back to that,” Frost had said on Signing Day earlier in the month. “The best thing Coach (Tom) Osborne did was have everybody practice… and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”

HuskerOnline details some of the compliance and budgetary challenges that going to 150 would entail but it certainly sounds like the school is making the effort to beef the numbers up. The Cornhuskers are well known in college football history for their walk-on program and roughly 10-15 walk-ons per class would apparently help them land right around Frost’s ideal roster size after factoring in the 85 full-scholarship players he would recruit.

Interestingly, going to 150 would allow the program to pass Michigan for the Big Ten’s biggest roster. The Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh are reportedly sitting at around 135 players after the 2017 season while most of the other conference’s schools are mostly around the 120 mark with a few exceptions. Title IX is not surprisingly the biggest obstacle for teams but it seems like some can manage things with no issue.

Frost was hired this offseason to help take Nebraska back to their perch atop college football and it seems like he is certainly attempting to do that in more ways than one when it comes to Big Red.

Purdue hires Utah State’s Mark Tommerdahl as special teams and tight ends coach

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Jeff Brohm is bringing in longtime coaching veteran Mark Tommerdahl to fill out his staff and serve as Purdue’s special teams and tight ends coach.

The Boilermakers announced the move on Saturday afternoon as Tommerdahl heads to West Lafayette after spending just a season at Utah State where he also coached running backs and ran the Aggies’ special teams. While his stay in Logan was brief, Tommerdahl has been all over the country in 34 years as a coach and is highly regarded for his work in the kicking game.

Tommerdahl has plenty of prior Power Five coaching experience and spent four seasons with Sonny Dykes at Cal where he coached three different position groups and served as assistant head coach. Prior to that he also had stops at Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU and several other schools.

The move to bring in Tommerdahl fills the spot on the Boilermakers’ staff that was left when former Houston coach Tony Levine left after one season with the school to pursue opportunities outside of the coaching profession. Brohm’s 10th assistant Kevin Wolthausen was also given special teams responsibilities when he was elevated to a full-time role so it’s possible the team is really beefing up their emphasis on the third phases of the game with the two new coaches splitting duties when it comes to special teams.

Either way, after a surprising 2017 season that ended with a bowl game victory it’s pretty clear that Brohm is not just sitting back when it comes to his coaching staff and is bringing in some veteran names to help the team take the next step in 2018.

Iowa State OC Tom Manning reportedly leaving Ames for Indianapolis Colts staff

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After one of the most successful seasons in recent memory at Iowa State, it appears head coach Matt Campbell will not be able to keep the band together for another run.

Campbell confirmed to The Des Moines Register on Saturday morning that offensive coordinator Tom Manning was leaving Ames and will be taking a job in the NFL. The paper later was able to confirm that the team in question will be the Indianapolis Colts for a spot on Frank Reich’s new staff. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg says Manning will be the team’s tight ends coach.

“I’m really happy and proud of him,” Campbell told the Register.

Manning has been with Campbell for years and the two actually played (and coached) together at famed D-III power Mount Union in the early 2000’s. Both were on the same staff at Toledo and Manning served as offensive line coach both there and at Iowa State. As offensive coordinator in 2017 he guided the Cyclones to a bit of an offensive renaissance despite relying on backup quarterback Kyle Kempt for most of the season, helping the team produce the third most points per game in school history while ranking in the top five in both total yards and passing.

ISU memorably upset Oklahoma in Norman and capped off an eight-win campaign in the Liberty Bowl with a victory over a ranked Memphis team.

The move leaves two openings on Campbell’s staff for 2018 but the Register notes that graduate assistant Jeff Myers is a possibility for the offensive line job and special teams analyst Joe Houston could be the team’s potential 10th assistant coach.