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

Ohio State Buckeye first to make some Super Bowl history

Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman celebrates his two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Purdue, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State 29-22 in overtime. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
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The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl on Sunday, which means tight end Jeff Heuerman is now the answer to a fun little trivia question for years to come. Heuerman became the first football player to win both a College Football Playoff national championship and a Super Bowl.

Heuerman was a senior tight end for Ohio State in the 2014 season, catching 207 yards and two touchdowns for the Buckeyes, who captured the first College Football Playoff national championship under the new postseason championship structure. He went on to be a third-round draft pick of the Broncos in the 2015 NFL Draft, but he tore his ACL in Denver’s rookie camp in May 2015. He was subsequently ruled out for the entire 2015 season, so his place in history comes with a tiny caveat. But he still will get a Super Bowl ring to go with his national championship ring from a year ago.

The search will go on now for the first player to both play in and win a College Football Playoff national championship and a Super Bowl. Former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was unable to make his own history with a Super Bowl win, but he may get another crack at that again before his career is done.

Helmet sticker to Reddit.

Ex-Houston coach Tony Levine reportedly finds new home at WKU

PROVO, UT - SEPTEMBER 11:  Head coach Tony Levine of the Houston Cougars during a game against the BYU Cougars on September 11, 2014 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Jay Drowns/Getty Images)
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Former Houston coach Tony Levine — the guy who was fired after winning 21 games in three years and replaced by Tom Herman — will join Western Kentucky’s staff as an offensive assistant, according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman.

Levine was fired in December 2014 after coaching Houston to a 7-5 season, but the general feeling around the program appeared to be that he wasn’t keeping it on the same upward trajectory forged by Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin before him. There was some staff instability — he fired offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt two days into the 2012 season — as well as a few embarrassing losses for a program trying to assure its foothold in the ultra-competitive football state of Texas.

At Western Kentucky, Levine will work under third-year-coach-to-be Jeff Brohm, who just steered the Hilltoppers to a 12-2 season. Not only has Western Kentucky made back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history under Brohm, they’ve won both of them. While Levine’s tenure at Houston ended abruptly, he still took the Cougars to two bowl games and should be a nice addition to a coaching staff that has to deal with plenty of personnel turnover from last season.

Gone is 5,000-yard quarterback Brandon Doughty, as well as the team’s third-, fourth- and fifth-leading pass-catchers in receiver Jared Dangerfield (82 REC, 844 yards, 8 TDs), receiver Antwane Grant (55 REC, 701 yards, 7 TDs) and tight end Tyler Higbee (38 REC, 563 yards, 8 TDs).

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)
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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.