Predictions 101 — Week 6

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The first month of the season is in the books and now it’s time to really get after it. We’ve got Top-10 matchups and season-defining showdowns.

Yep, no more games involving Towson, rookie mistakes, extracurricular activities and bad predictions.

Last week, we went 4-3 straight and 3-4 versus “the number.” We had thoughts about this sort of thing after officials in Stillwater didn’t catch that fumble in the final seconds, but it’ll generally even out.

We’re not conceding this to be a rebuilding year at P101. It’s been rough with the smaller sampling of games, but we’re gonna turn this around right now.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Oct. 4, thru Sat., Oct. 6)

1) No. 5 Georgia at No. 6 South Carolina
Sat., Oct. 6 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

There’s a lot to like on each side, much of it nearly identical, making it quite hard to make the call.

When you think of Georgia’s one-two punch of freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, memories of how South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore similarly burst upon the SEC scene two years ago (against the Bulldogs, no less) come to mind.

Yeah, Lattimore is still around. The veteran has been through a bunch of stuff, paid his dues and isn’t one to let these young bulls take center stage in his house … but, of course, that’s not entirely up to him.

Both defenses will have their hands full, but they each also have amazing playmakers. Gamecock defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is an absolute wrecking crew. Meanwhile, Bulldog linebacker Jarvis Jones seems to be everywhere, causing havoc for opposition offenses just the same.

Georgia’s balanced attack (285.6 yards passing, 250.4 rushing), which has scored 41 or more points in all five games this season, is equipped to neutralize some of South Carolina’s pass rush from the edge. Accounting for that hard charging ground game will be the Cocks’ No. 1 priority. Play action will give Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray those extra half-seconds in the pocket to do some damage downfield.

Again, the same can be said when you reverse the roles, but in our opinion, to a lesser degree. We like Mark Richt’s offensive line better.

The way Georgia handled itself on the road at Missouri on Sept. 8, scoring 32 second-half points to post a 41-20 come-from-behind victory, is another factor in this decision.

The Bulldogs, who have dropped the last two in this series that began in 1894 and have never lost three in a row, didn’t need to beat the Gamecocks last year to take the SEC East. This season looks a lot different in the East and it seems to be a requirement.

Opening point spread: South Carolina by 2 1/2

The pick: Georgia 28-27

2) No. 4 LSU at No. 10 Florida
Sat., Oct. 6 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

The battles to control the line of scrimmage in this showdown are going to be fascinating.

Florida’s improved offensive line will test itself against one of the best fronts in the land. On the flipside, LSU’s sledgehammer attack will provide a gauge on how far Will Muschamp’s defense has come in his second year at The Swamp.

Both quarterbacks will find themselves under siege. In Jeff Driskel’s case that’s primarily because the LSU defensive line is all-world. Although the Gator pass rush is a notch below what the Tigers have to offer, Zach Mettenberg’s lack of mobility evens that out.

Scoring opportunities don’t figure to be plentiful, so which ever offense can manage to stay in rhythm for decent stretches of plays will end up with the edge.

We’re giving Florida a long look. Home field advantage and an extra week to prepare are always huge factors. However, there was a huge gap between the teams when LSU showed its dominance in last season’s 41-11 victory in Death Valley. We know both squads are considerably different than last year’s editions, but how much?

Consistency is king, but when your next five opponents are Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State, and you just got done slugging it out with Auburn, not using your top-gear versus Towson is somewhat understandable.

We expect most people to be scared off by the Tigers’ recent sloppiness — turnovers, penalties, red-zone ineffectiveness — but we’re banking on Les Miles using that to bring focus to his troops. Remember, he still has the horses and they all hear what you’ve been saying about them.

Opening point spread: LSU by 2 1/2

The pick: LSU 17-13

3) No. 8 West Virginia at No. 11 Texas
Sat., Oct. 6 — 7 p.m. ET, FOX

No disrespect to Baylor, but announcing yourselves as a contender in the Big 12 will never be about beating the Bears at home. Going to Austin and taking something away from the Longhorns is an entirely different story. After all, Texas is why the league is still around in the first place … and joinable by West Virginia.

So have at it, Mountaineers. Just understand that giving up 63 points to Baylor does not bode well for your chances.

West Virginia wideouts Stedman Bailey (13 catches, 303 yards and five touchdowns vs. Baylor) and Tavon Austin (only 14 receptions for 215 yards and two scores) will help Geno Smith post a set of nice numbers, Heisman worthy, but nothing approaching the 45-for-51, 656-yard, eight-touchdown day he had versus the Bears.

The Mountaineers will be facing the best defense they’ve faced in nearly a year (since getting roughed up by LSU, 47-21) and they can’t really counter with much in that regard. West Virginia currently ranks 94th in scoring defense, 106th in total defense and 118th in pass defense.

Opening point spread: Texas by 6 1/2

The pick: Texas 41-38

4) No. 21 Nebraska at No. 12 Ohio State
Sat., Oct. 6 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Last year against Ohio State, the Cornhuskers were able to dig themselves out of a 21-point hole at home … not too different from the 27-10 deficit they erased last Saturday in their victory over Wisconsin.

But, when Nebraska falls behind in the Horseshoe, there will be no such rally. The Buckeye defense will turn up the heat and quarterback Braxton Miller, who was sidelined during last season’s Husker comeback, will bleed time of the clock in bunches.

With Taylor Martinez at the controls, the Nebraska offense has the ability to be similarly effective, but the warning signs of turnovers, penalties and mental mistakes in their own stadium last week don’t bode well for a contest in Columbus.

Ohio State has really been impressive at the line of scrimmage … you know … “old man football” stuff. With that to rely on, Urban Meyer bags another big one.

Opening point spread: Ohio State by 4 1/2

The pick: Ohio State 27-20

5) No. 23 Washington at No. 2 Oregon
Sat., Oct. 6 — 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

The Huskies stunned then-No. 8 Stanford last Thursday night, holding the powerful Cardinal running game to just 65 yards. Forcing Tree QB Josh Nunes to try and win his first road game with his arm by stacking the box was a good game plan.

The Ducks, however, are a different animal. They ain’t no tree and are nearly impossible to make one-dimensional.

Let’s not get too caught up in Washington’s new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Yes, we saw him beat Oregon in 2009, when he was at Boise State. But we also saw Chip Kelly’s Ducks torch Tennessee’s defense a year later after Wilcox moved to Knoxville.

San Diego State and LSU ran for 199 and 242 yards, respectively, on Washington. Expect more of that at Autzen Stadium, where the Ducks have won 27 of their last 28. And when you add 200-plus yards via Marcus Mariota’s arm and that speedy receiving corps, this game is going to get ugly.

On the other side of the ball, Oregon’s active defensive front seven will keep Husky tailback Bishop Sankey in check and pester quarterback Keith Price all night.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 24

The pick: Oregon 56-21

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

No. 17 Oklahoma at Texas Tech
Sat., Oct. 6 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ABC

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

It would appear that the wrong team is the favorite in this Big 12 matchup. After all, it’s Texas Tech that enters with an unblemished record, elite quarterbacking and a top-ranked defense.

Yes, you read that right, the 167.5 yards per game the Red Raiders are allowing is tops in the nation and the 10.8 points they allow ranks fifth. The numbers are admittedly built at the expense of second-rate opposition, but this sort of thing isn’t what we’ve come to expect from this bunch and is worth noting.

What hasn’t changed in Lubbock is a prolific aerial attack led by senior quarterback Seth Doege, who has tossed 15 touchdowns against just three interceptions for the nation’s seventh-ranked passing offense. He should feel comfortable against a Sooner defense that has forced just one turnover all season.

Bob Stoops’ squads have won 18 consecutive regular-season games following a defeat, a position they find themselves in after losing at home to Kansas State two weeks ago. But, the Red Raiders know all about halting Sooner streaks.

Harken back to last year when Texas Tech snapped Oklahoma’s streak of 39 victories at home. Add to that three consecutive Sooner losses in Lubbock and we get the impression Stoops would have preferred Tommy Tuberville’s squad relocated to the SEC.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 8

The pick: Texas Tech 34-24

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Miami at No. 9 Notre Dame at Chicago
Sat., Oct. 6 — 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Yeah, it isn’t entirely natural to call this a rivalry game since they haven’t played in the regular season since 1990, but it seems just like yesterday that “Catholics vs. Convicts” t-shirts were top sellers and the Hurricanes and Fighting Irish were busy denying each other national championships.

Prior to the epic showdowns in 1988, 1989 and 1990, the series was best known for merely being Notre Dame’s warm-weather season-ender in years that didn’t call for them to play USC at the L.A. Coliseum during Thanksgiving weekend.

With the Fighting Irish’s new scheduling arrangement with the ACC, this rivalry could be on its way to re-ignition.

The two teams did meet in the 2010 Sun Bowl. The Hurricanes gave that one away, 33-17.

Miami isn’t the best team on the first half of Notre Dame’s schedule, but it could be the one that’s hardest for the Irish to handle. This U isn’t THE U, but it is the fastest squad the Irish will have played to this point.

Stephen Morris won’t throw for 566 yards and five scores like he did in last week’s Hurricane victory over North Carolina State. This Notre Dame defense, which has allowed only 36 points this season, is legit. But it will be interesting until the final moments.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 9 1/2

The pick: Notre Dame 26-20

Akron earns second-ever spot in MAC championship game

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Akron came into Week 13 needing to either win or rely on someone else to lose.  In the end, the Zips decided to just go ahead and punch their own ticket to the Motor City, thank you very much.

Jumping out to a 24-7 halftime lead Tuesday night, that margin proved to be more than enough for Akron as they easily cruised past rival Kent State in a 24-14 win.  Kent actually outgained its hosts 246-191, but a fumble return for a touchdown with less than 20 seconds left in the second quarter essentially sealed the win for Akron.

Both Akron and Ohio entered this week tied atop the MAC East at 5-2.  However, the Zips beat the Bobcats in Week 12, meaning Akron is the first MAC team to claim a spot in the conference championship game at Detroit’s Ford Field next weekend.

This will mark the Zips’s second-ever title-game appearance, with the first coming in 2005.  That season, Akron beat Northern Illinois 31-30 for its first-ever conference championship.

Akron will play either NIU (6-1) or Toledo (6-1) in this year’s title game, although it’s trending heavily toward the Rockets as they own the head-to-head with the Huskies.  So, the possibilities?

Toledo wins the West with either a win over Western Michigan OR an NIU loss. Northern Illinois needs to beat Central Michigan AND have Toledo lose to WMU at home to win the division.

Report: Florida appears ready to move on from Chip Kelly pursuit if deal isn’t consummated soon

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Florida’s search for a new head coach could very shortly be ready to take another twist.

Despite a certain former Head Ball Coach saying UF’s new head coach would be a current one, speculation on Jim McElwain‘s replacement has seemingly centered on Chip Kelly over the last few days. In fact, a group of UF officials headed by athletic director Scott Stricklin and president Kent Fuchs visited with Kelly in New Hampshire over the weekend to discuss the job.

While it walks, talks and smells like the university has targeted Kelly as its top choice, it appears they want an answer, one way or the other, from the former Oregon head coach sooner rather than later. From Yahoo! SportsPat Forde:

But with other potential candidates becoming available for discussion this weekend, Florida officials appear to be ready to move on shortly after Thanksgiving if a deal has not been struck with Kelly.

Potentially mucking up the works in Gainesville is UCLA, which fired Jim Mora Sunday and is also said to be targeting Kelly as a replacement.  In fact, it’s being reported that the Bruins’ search contingent has already met with Kelly.

UCF’s Scott Frost, who is believed to be Nebraska’s top choice when/when it moves on from Mike Riley, and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen are thought to be likely targets should either Kelly snub the Gators or they move on.

One very likely reason for UF’s reported urgency for a decision from Kelly is the revamped recruiting calendar. This year marks the first time that there’s an early signing period in football, with Class of 2018 recruits given a 72-hour window from Dec. 20-22 to sign their National Letters of Intent.

The sooner UF can wrap up its search, the sooner its new coach and his staff can try to hold together some semblance of a first recruiting class with the program – especially with two SEC programs, Tennessee and Ole Miss, already looking for a head coach while a couple of others (Arkansas, Texas A&M) could be on the hunt as early as this coming weekend as well.

Miami jumps Clemson, Wisconsin remains No. 5 in latest CFP rankings

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The third-to-last edition of the College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night, and the only changes in the top 12 came at spot No. 2, where Miami jumped Clemson ahead of the pair’s ACC title clash on Dec. 2.

USC remained the highest-ranked Pac-12 team at No. 11, dimming any hopes the Pac-12 could back-door its way into the top four should chaos reign elsewhere. The Trojans were one spot ahead of TCU and two spots ahead of the Pac-12’s second-highest ranked team in Washington State. Central Florida again led all Group of 5 teams at No. 15.

Virginia Tech re-joined the rankings at No. 25, one spot behind the debut rankings for South Carolina.

The top 25:

1. Alabama
2. Miami
3. Clemson
4. Oklahoma
5. Wisconsin
6. Auburn
7. Georgia
8. Notre Dame
9. Ohio State
10. Penn State
11. USC
12. TCU
13. Washington State
14. Mississippi State
15. Central Florida
16. Michigan State
17. Washington
18. LSU
19. Oklahoma State
20. Memphis
21. Stanford
22. Northwestern
23. Boise State
24. South Carolina
25. Virginia Tech

Report: LSU victory would not save Kevin Sumlin’s job

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Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday afternoon he expects to be Texas A&M’s head coach in 2018. A report Tuesday night says otherwise.

Sumlin will be fired in the day or days following Saturday’s game with No. 20 LSU, win or lose, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle. The Aggies are 0-5 against LSU under Sumlin and double-digit underdogs for Saturday’s game in Baton Rouge. The Chronicle‘s report is not the first to proclaim Sumlin’s future firing, but it is the most definitive.

Sumlin is 7-4 (4-3 SEC) this season and 51-25 overall, a mark that ranks in the top-third of the SEC since joining the league in 2012 — but Sumlin is not paid to deliver top-third results. His program failed to live up to the standard set in that debut campaign, with an 11-2 mark, a win in Tuscaloosa, a Cotton Bowl blowout of Oklahoma and a Heisman Trophy for Johnny Manziel.

The Chronicle reported that Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher will be A&M’s top target to replace Sumlin.