Richt Spurrier

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

Pat Narduzzi believes Pitt RB James Conner will play in 2016

In this photo taken Nov. 21, 2015, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, right, applauds a touchdown by his team next to James Conner in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Pittsburgh. Conner spent the last three months weighing whether to return next fall or head to the NFL after a torn knee ligament ended his junior season before it really began. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP) MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES; MONESSEN OUT; KITTANNING OUT; CONNELLSVILLE OUT; GREENSBURG OUT; TARENTUM OUT; NORTH HILLS NEWS RECORD OUT; BUTLER OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
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The college football world was stunned when Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who missed the bulk of the 2015 season due to a knee injury, announced he is battling cancer. Despite his ongoing bout with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest, Conner is said to be in great physical shape and looks he could even be ready to play for the Panthers this fall once he beats cancer.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said recently to ESPN.com reporter James Shanker. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Conner declared his intention to play football again when he announced his cancer to the world last December.

“I will play football again,” Conner said in early December. “I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.”

The former ACC Player of the Year is receiving financial support from Pitt to handle the costs of the treatments, which is allowed by the NCAA for special circumstances. This is certainly a special circumstance. Per NCAA rules, Conner and his family are required to have personal insurance but schools may pick up the tab for remaining costs not covered by the student’s insurance coverage. Pitt is able to lend its support because cancer is affecting Conner’s ability to play football.

The college football world will continue to root for Conner as he works his way back to the football field.

Cost of attendance not having negative recruiting impact on Group of Five (yet)

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs for a first down against Temple during the second half of the American Athletic Conference championship football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Houston. Houston won 24-13. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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The outlook on the impact cost of attendance has on non-power conference institutions may not be known for another year or so, but after one recruiting cycle since the power conferences were granted autonomy powers, cost of attendance stipends have not been seen to be a major difference in the game as one might have thought originally.

Underdog Dynasty took a look at the issue and how Group of Five schools have fared. The initial findings suggest Group of Five programs are not struggling nearly as much as once suspected when it comes to cost of attendance stipends, although it is something that not every program has jumped into providing just yet. And yes, the topic of stipends does pop up on the recruiting trail, which suggests the Group of Five programs that can provide a little extra money as part of a player’s enrollment do figure to have some sort of advantage. However, stipends do not appear to be a game changer on a massive enough scale.

From Underdog Dynasty;

Another fear from last season was that smaller athletic departments couldn’t afford it. Those may have been overblown as well. My Google search turned up news of South Dakota State phasing in COA stipends for all student-athletes, something North Dakota and North Dakota State already have done.

All three are FCS schools. If they can afford the stipends, albeit funding 63 football scholarships rather than 85, G5 schools should as well. Even the Sun Belt distributes more than $1 million per school in College Football Playoff payouts.

Houston, of the American Athletic Conference, just landed a recruiting class that would make a good number of power conference programs jealous, although the Cougars were the only Group of Five program to finish ranked in the top 50 in the final team rankings compiled by Rivals (BYU finished No. 48). Boise State, UCF and Temple fell in the upper half of the FBS mix as well.

Just as one year of the College Football Playoff system did not provide enough empirical evidence to suggest the Big 12 should expand to 12 just to get a conference championship game, one year of cost of attendance stipends is not nearly enough to suggest it has a devastating or minimal impact on the recruiting game in college football. This is just something that will have to be watched for a few more years in order to gather more evidence to evaluate.

Former Wolverine Brian Cole transferring to Kentucky

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2013, file photo, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops watches from the sideline during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. Stoops has recruited some high-level talent since coming to Lexington three years ago and the Wildcats have taken substantial steps forward. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File
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Maybe it’s the new uniforms. Maybe it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. Whatever the reason, former Michigan wide receiver and defensive back Brian Cole is heading to Kentucky.

Cole was a four-star recruit in Michigan’s Class of 2015. The second-ranked player from the state of Michigan was a significant addition to the Wolverines by then first-year Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, which helps make his decision to leave for another program now a bit interesting to note considering the momentum seemingly being generated in Ann Arbor. He was released from his scholarship in Michigan in January.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, Cole will be forced to sit out the 2016 season and will be eligible to return to the playing field again in 2017. The good news for Cole is he will still have three years of eligibility remaining.

Cole appeared in two games for the Wolverines in 2015, but he spent most of the season held back by injury issues. His addition to the Kentucky roster is a big win for head coach Mark Stoops, who has developed a little bit of a habit for adding some talented transfers to his program in Lexington.

Michigan and Notre Dame could be rekindling their football series

FILE - In this Sept. 10, 1994, file photo, Notre Dame's Derrick Mayes (1) pulls in a touchdown catch in front of Michigan's Chuck Winters (35) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind. Mayes may have grabbed this spectacular catch for a score, but Michigan's Remy Hamilton kicked four field goals, including a 42-yarder with 2 seconds left, to give the Wolverines a 26-24  victory. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File)
AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File
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The bitter divorce between Michigan and Notre Dame on the football field could soon be forgiven. There are hints and clues the series could be heading to a revival.

Michigan athletics director Jim Hackett started lighting the fire for the rivalry series renewal discussion last week when he mentioned during a radio interview the two schools have opened communication on the subject.

“I will tell you this, the relationship is good, and it started with [Jim Harbaugh] and coach [Brian Kelly] working together on a desire to play together,” Hackett said. “But (there’s) nothing firm yet.”

In 2013, when the two schools were beginning to play what was to be their final game son the existing contract, Kelly downplayed the rivalry with Michigan by noting it has not been one of the best rivalries in Notre Dame’s history. In his defense, he is right. In fact, Notre Dame has a more storied history with Michigan State, not to mention USC or Navy.

“I really haven’t seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” Kelly said according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played.

“For me, I’ve been in Michigan a long time, I’ve always felt the Notre Dame-Michigan game was a big regional game. But in the Notre Dame history books, this game has (been) played, but obviously there have been some years where it hasn’t been played for a number of years.”

Kelly did later go on to say he was optimistic the series with Michigan would return in the future. Harbaugh was quick to follow up on the idea of playing Notre Dame again. Now we just sit and wait to see when that may become a possibility.

Scheduling for both Michigan and Notre Dame have become a bit more complex in more recent years than it used to be. Notre Dame is part of an ACC scheduling rotation that guarantees a certain number of power conference opponents from the ACC each season and the Irish continue rivalry game son an annual basis with USC, Stanford and Navy. Michigan is moving to a nine-game Big Ten schedule with the requirement to play at least one power conference opponent in its non-conference slate each season. The Wolverines already have that requirement met through the 2027 season but have shown a willingness to schedule two power conference opponents in a season, which is the case in 2020 and 2021 (games vs. Washington and Virginia Tech in alternating home-and-home deals).