Maryland v West Virginia

Predictions 101 — Week 5


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


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


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

Power Five conference races beginning to come into focus

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 17:  College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy presented by Dr Pepper is seen at Tiger Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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As we get set to embark on Week 8 of the 2016 college football season, we’re officially beyond the halfway point and closer to championship weekend than we are to opening weekend. And, with that, the Power Five conference races are starting to come into focus — but are far from finished.

This weekend, though, there are a handful of key matchups that could offer further clarity across the major conferences, although most, if not all, are still weeks away from being decided.

That said, here’s a look at where the Power Five conferences and, in four of the five cases, how their respective divisions stand before the eighth weekend of the regular season kicks off.

At 4-0, Clemson currently controls its own destiny in the division courtesy of the Oct. 1 win over 3-1 Louisville.  The U of L will be desperately rooting for Florida State, at 2-2 with one of those league losses coming at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in the middle of last month, to knock off Clemson next Saturday as well as the Tigers tripping up in one of their other three remaining conference games (Syracuse, Pitt, at Wake Forest) while also holding serve through the remainder of their slate.  FSU, with league losses to the U of L and North Carolina, will need a minor miracle to get back to the conference championship game.

Technically, 2-2 Wake Forest remains in contention, and still has games against Clemson and Louisville.  Then again, they’re Wake.

In all likelihood, the Coastal will come down to a three-team race: 3-1 North Carolina, 3-1 Virginia Tech and 2-1 Pittsburgh.  Tech has already beaten UNC, and will face Pitt next weekend.  The Tar Heels, meanwhile, own a win over the Panthers to go along with the loss to the Hokies.  Simply put, if Tech wins out (at Pitt, at Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia), they will claim the division and represent the Coastal against their Atlantic counterparts.

As you know, though, this division very rarely plays to the form it presents halfway through the conference season.

With all due respect to 2-1 Penn State, 3-0 Michigan and 3-0 Ohio State are on a collision course for an epic edition of the greatest rivalry in all of college football that will likely not only impact the division and the conference race but the College Football Playoff as well.  PSU could make me eat my words almost immediately as they play host to OSU in the always-dangerous white-out game later tonight; that said, if the Buckeyes can get past the Nittany Lions, they’ll have to traverse home games against Northwestern and Nebraska as well as road trips to Maryland and an abruptly vulnerable Michigan State before hosting UM.  The Wolverines get to host Illinois, Maryland and Indiana along with visits to rival Michigan State and Iowa before The Game.

Like the ACC Coastal, this division’s winner will very (?) likely come from a trio of teams: 3-0 Nebraska, 3-1 Iowa, 2-1 Northwestern.  The Cornhuskers already have a win over the Wildcats, while the Wildcats beat the Hawkeyes on the road the first weekend of this month.  Nebraska will close out the season against Iowa, while the latter has one sizable advantage over the other two as they avoid Ohio State completely while the others will face the Buckeyes in Weeks 9 (Wildcats) and 10 (Cornhuskers).  Both of those games, incidentally, are in Columbus.

There’s a potential wrench that could be tossed into the race, it should be noted, as 1-2 Wisconsin still has games remaining against all three of the West teams mentioned above.  Sweep those and get a little additional help, and the Badgers could be right back in the discussion by the end of the regular season.

BIG 12
Next season, this conference’s champion will be decided by a league title game.  This season, the standard round-robin format will determine the champion, and, because of that and the way the schedule is constructed, this league is as convoluted as any in the sport.

Three members are undefeated at the moment in Baylor and Oklahoma at 3-0, West Virginia at 2-0.  Two others are 2-1 — Oklahoma State and TCU.  How convoluted is the current state of the Big 12 race?  Just two games have been played between those five teams thus far: Baylor beating Oklahoma State and Oklahoma beating TCU.  A third will be played this weekend as the Horned Frogs will travel to Morgantown to face the Mountaineers in a contest that will allow a little — little — clarity when it comes to the conference race.

This could be the most simplistic of all the P5 divisions: barring something extraordinary taking place, the winner of this division will be decided in the Apple Cup between a 3-0 Washington and a 3-0 Washington State.  Or, at the very least, the winner will play in that rivalry game.  And, of all the developments thus far this season, that may be the most stunning.  To put a finer point on this divisional race, the team currently in third place at 2-2, 2015 Pac-12 champion Stanford, lost to both UW and Wazzu by a combined score of 86-22.

Utah and Colorado are tied atop this division at 3-1, with 3-2 USC still in the same neighborhood.  The Utes own a win over the Trojans, while the Trojans own one over the Buffs.  Utah and USC still have Washington on their schedule, while Colorado, which avoids UW, has to play a Washington State team that won’t face either of the other.  One date to circle on the calendar: Nov. 26, with the Utes traveling to Boulder to square off with the Buffs in the regular season finale.

A lot like the Big 12, this race likely won’t be decided until we get deep into November.

Despite its loss to 2-2 Tennessee, 3-1 Florida controls its own destiny in this division.  Win out, and the Gators will earn their second consecutive berth in the SEC championship game.  Their remaining league schedule?  The annual World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party grudge match with Georgia in Jacksonville, and road trips to No. 17 Arkansas and No. 25 LSU sandwiched around a home game against South Carolina.  UT, though, could easily win out as their lone remaining games consist of South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt.  While the Gators are currently in control, their path to Atlanta is much steeper than that of the Vols despite currently sitting in the driver’s seat — and knowing full well that that come-from-ahead loss to UT is riding shotgun.

This might be the most fun division in all of college football.  Again.  Alabama and Texas A&M both sit at 4-0, while Auburn and LSU are at 2-1.  The really, really fun part?  Only A&M and Auburn have met already this year, a Sept. 17 win for the Aggies on The Plains.  The Tide and Aggies meet in a critical matchup this afternoon, but several more critical contests await the division in the coming weeks.

In other words, grab your popcorn.  This thing is far from decided — a sentiment that’s far from the exclusive property of this division.

Starting corner among three indefinitely suspended by Aztecs

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Derek Babiash #31 of the San Diego State Aztecs tackles Jordan Veasy #15 of the California Golden Bears during the first quarter of a game at Qualcomm Stadium on September 10, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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San Diego State ran its Mountain West winning streak to 14 straight with 42-3 throttling of San Jose State Friday night, but it wasn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows in the postgame for the Aztecs.

Following the win, Rocky Long confirmed that cornerbacks Derek Babiash and Billy Vaughn Jr. and defensive lineman Fred Melifonwu have been indefinitely suspended from the football program.  Unspecified violations of team rules was the only reason given.

It doesn’t, though, sound like the trio will be back anytime soon, if at all.

“We’ve got to get all the facts together,” the Aztecs head coach said. “Once we have all the facts, a decision will be made permanently.”

While Babiash and Vaughn are listed as co-starters on the depth chart, it’s Babiash who started the first six games of the season prior to his suspension.  Babiash is also tied for the team lead in interceptions with three.

Melifonwu, listed third on the depth chart at one end position, has played in four games this season.

Dead Ducks? Oregon off to worst start in three decades

BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 21:  Darren Carrington II #7 of the Oregon Ducks can not catch a ball while covered by Marloshawn Franklin Jr. #18 of the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on October 21, 2016 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Regardless of how you slice it, the state of the Oregon Ducks football program could be summed up in a single word: shambles.  And, as a result, Mark Helfrich‘s coaching seat is scorching hot.

Friday night, Oregon roared back from an early 21-0 deficit to take Cal to overtime, to double overtime before falling 52-49 in Berkeley.  It was a spirited comeback by Oregon, but also symbolic of how far the mighty Ducks have fallen: a moral victory against Cal of all teams when once an on-field victory was guaranteed.

Now, nothing is guaranteed for the Ducks unless it’s a los as they have fallen to 2-5, the school’s worst start to a season since 1986.  They have also lost five straight games, the longest in-season losing streak since it lost six in a row to close out 1991.

It’s the defense, though, that’s offensive.

The Ducks have allowed 600 or more yards of offense in three straight games.  According to ESPN, they had allowed 600-plus yards in just three games the last eight years coming into the season.  At bare minimum, first-year defensive coordinator Brady Hoke should be concerned for hs immediate future in Eugene.

Long-term, however, all eyes are on Helfrich, including John Canzano of The Oregonian:

Helfrich’s seat is hot. Everyone knows it. We also recognize that despite immense resources, amazing facilities and a decade-long running head start the Oregon football brand is now broken. An insider at Oregon said after the Ducks surrendered 70 points to Washington that the university couldn’t afford to be patient if it wanted to avoid losing as many as 10,000 season-ticket holders for next season.

Helfrich has now lost nine games in a little over a season and a half.  In four full seasons under Chip Kelly, the Ducks lost a total of seven games.  Chip’s ghost looms large over the football program, as does mega-booster Phil Knight.

The Nike founder visited with athletic director Rob Mullens during last night’s game.  Here’s to guessing there’ll be plenty more meetings between the two in the coming days and weeks as they map out the future of Ducks football — and whether Helfrich will be a part of it.

Jordan Westerkamp to miss second straight game for Nebraska

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 10: Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp #1 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers grabs a touchdown pass against linebacker D.J. May #7 of the Wyoming Cowboys at Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Wyoming 52-14. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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For the second consecutive week, Nebraska will be without one of the most experienced and productive members of their passing game.

Late this past week, Mike Riley officially ruled Jordan Westerkamp out of Saturday’s game against Purdue. The wide receiver sustained an injury to his back during the Week 5 win over Illinois, and was briefly hospitalized after being hit by an Illini defender.

He missed last Saturday’s win over Indiana because of the injury

The good news is that not only does the head coach expect Westerkamp to return to practice this coming Tuesday, but it’s very likely that, barring a setback, he will play in the key Week 9 Big Ten West matchup with Wisconsin in Madison. The Cornhuskers currently lead the division at 3-0, while the Badgers, at 1-2, are looking to remain within shouting distance.

At the time of the injury, Westerkamp led the Cornhuskers in receiving touchdowns (four) and tied for the team lead in receptions (13). His 228 receiving yards were second behind Alonzo Moore‘s 310.

Last season, Westerkamp led the ‘Huskers in all three of those categories.