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

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas to give Todd Orlando raise to $1.7 million per year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: ‘Resource issues in ACC vs. SEC’

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.

UCF’s Shaquem Griffin wins inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award

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UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.

That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.

Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.

The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.