Predictions 101 — Week 7

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Last week on “Shakeup Saturday,” we went 3-4 straight up and versus “the number.” That was typical of our mediocre season so far. It’s amazing to think that John L. Smith had a better weekend than us.

Let’s see if we can at least get into a 4-3 alignment or better this week, which features an intriguing slate of games.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Oct. 11, thru Sat., Oct. 13)

1) No. 3 South Carolina at No. 9 LSU
Sat., Oct. 13 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Gamecocks certainly looked like BCS material last Saturday as they dismantled Georgia, 35-7. Impressive in every phase of the game, this “USC” is the one that could make a run at the crystal football.

What remains to be seen is South Carolina’s ability to display that same sort of assertiveness and efficiency in Death Valley. If it can, will it be enough to get past LSU?

The Tigers had a far different experience last Saturday, losing their first regular-season game since Nov. 27, 2010. But let’s not jump to too many conclusions based on Florida’s 14-6 victory. LSU’s offensive limitations can be a sticking point, but its defensive prowess makes up for that.

If not for the crucial Gator drive in which Tiger linebackers Kevin Minter (leg cramps) and Kwon Alexander (broken ankle) were both sidelined, LSU very well could still be undefeated. Holding the Gators to 237 total yards — 85 of which came during the third-quarter drive mentioned above — is typically going to get it done.

No disrespect to South Carolina’s offense, but it will experience far more three-and-outs than usual in Baton Rouge. This will be tailback Marcus Lattimore’s first game against LSU and we don’t expect him to move the chains with his normal regularity.

That’ll put quarterback Connor Shaw in more obvious passing situations and the Tiger defense has the discipline to keep him in the pocket and force tough throws under duress. Not leaving lanes for Shaw to leak out into and run for the sticks is crucial.

The Gamecock defense is stout, as well, but in its only two road games this year both Vanderbilt and Kentucky held third-quarter leads over South Carolina, scoring a total of 30 points.

Opening point spread: LSU by 4

The pick: LSU 21-20

2) No. 17 Stanford at No. 7 Notre Dame
Sat., Oct. 13 — 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i. He’s been the star of our team so far.

The last time they left “The Farm,” running back Stepfan Taylor had only 75 yards on 21 attempts, inexperienced quarterback Josh Nunes misfired all day and the Cardinal did not score an offensive touchdown. Washington’s defense dominated and took away the Stanford running game in that 17-13 victory.

Let’s not forget that Husky defense is the same one that Oregon lit up for 52 points and 497 yards, 299 of which came on the ground. Since the Cardinal could not get things going in Seattle, expect a nightmare in South Bend.

Led by All-America linebacker Manti Te‘o, the Fighting Irish defense ranks second in points allowed, 10th in passing efficiency defense, 13th in total defense and 17th in rushing defense. To top it all off, Notre Dame is also seventh best in the country in turnover margin.

That kind of buzz saw is made to dissect trees.

The Irish offense took a little while to get things rolling earlier in the season, putting up just enough points to beat three Big Ten teams. Of course, that defense which has held opponents to less than a touchdown over the last three games takes a lot of the pressure off.

Last Saturday at Soldier Field, following a bye week, the Notre Dame offense blossomed and dropped 41 points on Miami (Fla.). With that attack catching up to the dominant defense, Stanford won’t get close, as the Irish continue to build their case for not just the BCS, but the whole enchilada.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 7

The pick: Notre Dame 37-13

3) No. 15 Texas vs. No. 13 Oklahoma (at Dallas)
Sat., Oct. 13 — noon ET, ABC

Longhorn quarterback David Ash doesn’t remotely resemble the nervous wreck that alternated with Case McCoy in last year’s mistake-filled nightmare in the Red River Rivalry.

Ash was machinelike last Saturday, completing 22-of-29 for 269 yards and a touchdown in a 48-45 loss to West Virginia. If his counterpart was anyone but Geno Smith, Ash would have been on the winning side.

As is always the case, taking care of the football is paramount. Oklahoma has won the last two in the series by taking advantage of seven takeaways.

The Texas defense needs to do a much better job of stopping the run. Smith’s passing was impressive as usual, but the Mountaineers’ 192 yards on the ground is what really hurt.

Longhorn fans are happy their team doesn’t have to deal with the sort of spread offense that Oklahoma State and West Virginia used to engineer 36- and 48-point outbursts.

But let’s not forget that the Sooners dropped 55 on the Longhorns last year, despite having the ball for only 22 of the 60 minutes. So proceed with caution.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 2 1/2

The pick: Texas 28-27

4) No. 10 Oregon State at Brigham Young
Sat., Oct. 13 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Could we possibly see a shutout here? Sure the Cougars roughed up Hawai‘i, 47-0, on Sept. 28, but what does that really mean these days? It’s more illuminating that in games on either side of that blowout BYU scored just six points in each contest.

The six-point output wasn’t enough in a 7-6 loss at Boise State on Sept. 20, but it did allow the Cougars to get past Utah State, 6-3, last Friday.

That limited amount of firepower, directed by rusty quarterback Riley Nelson (sat out last two weeks with a back injury and now his fill-in is out for the season), could get completely doused by a Beaver defense that kept Washington State out of the end zone last Saturday in a 19-6 win in Corvallis. And don’t forget about the stonewall that Oregon State put up in its 10-7 victory over Wisconsin on Sept. 8.

The chance of BYU’s defense finding success increases with backup quarterback Cody Vaz doing the pitching instead of injured starter Sean Mannion (knee). But the aerial assault will be a shock to the Cougars’ system nonetheless. This is likely to be the first time this season that BYU will be faced with 30 or more pass attempts.

Even with the change behind center, the Beavers will improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1939. But this is more “under” than Oregon State.

Opening point spread: BYU by 5

The pick: Oregon State 20-6

5) No. 5 West Virginia at Texas Tech
Sat., Oct. 13 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN

Aside from all the highlights and astounding statistics, you’ve got to wonder about how long the Mountaineers can survive on the tightrope they’ve been teetering on.

Giving up a total of 108 in its last two games put West Virginia on the brink each time. The Mountaineers beat Baylor and Texas by just seven and three points, respectively. Before that, they only defeated Maryland by 10 in Morgantown.

Geno Smith and Co. will likely do what they do once again, but something tells us that this trip to Lubbock will be tricky. The Red Raiders will certainly be ornery after their face-plant last week against Oklahoma.

We can’t really pull the trigger on the upset here (the Burbank office used its veto power), but we’d be very happy to take some free points.

Opening point spread: West Virginia by 4

The pick: West Virginia 37-34

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

California at Washington State
Sat., Oct. 13 — 10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks

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

The corporate squabbles involving the Pac-12 Networks have reached the halfway mark of the season. That means many households continue to be blacked out from some exciting Pac-12 action, but we doubt many fans will be making angry calls late into the night to watch these two cellar dwellers.

That is, unless they’re on board with us cheering for the Washington State upset on the heels of a trio of conference losses, the last two coming in better-than-looked efforts against the ranked Oregon schools.

We expected Mike Leach to do good things on the Palouse, and while that hasn’t brought much winning in his first year, the Cougars do feature a potent aerial attack that ranks 14th in the nation, averaging 312 yards per game. That unit will have to find success against a Cal defense that allows more than 250 passing yards per game, if the men in maroon are to defeat the Golden Bears for the first time in eight years.

We always like to remind everyone that Cal is Cal. Therefore, after an impressive first conference win in Berkeley at the expense of UCLA, a misstep on the road is in order.

Quarterback Zach Maynard was allowed to stand upright and pick apart the Bruin defense last week, but he will feel the pressure of the Cougars’ new 3-4 alignment, which has generated the ninth most sacks in the country with 19.

Opening point spread: California by 4 1/2

The pick: Washington State 28-20

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Nevada at UNLV
Sat., Oct. 13 — 3 p.m. ET

This fight decides if the Silver State is a red state or a blue state.

The winner gets to paint the Fremont Cannon in its school color and for the past seven years, it’s been bathed in the blue of the Wolf Pack.

The Fremont Cannon holds the distinction of being the largest and most expensive trophy in collegiate sports. It’s a massive 545-pound replica of the mountain howitzer that accompanied Captain John C. Fremont on his expedition through Oregon, Nevada and California in 1843-44. It cost $10,000 to create in 1970.

Speaking of impressive weaponry, Nevada’s pistol offense is one of just two units in the nation averaging more than 275 yards through the air and on the ground. (Oklahoma State is the other.)

However, with the status of Wolf Pack starting quarterback Cody Fajardo in question, those numbers might not be attained versus the Rebels. Fajardo aggravated a nagging back injury last week against Wyoming. Nevada led 21-7 when he was sidelined in the second quarter. Backup Devin Combs struggled initially, allowing the Cowboys to take a 28-35 lead. But the sophomore rallied to lead the Wolf Pack to victory in overtime.

If Combs has to make his first start on the road in this rivalry game, don’t expect the pistol to fire smoothly. But whatever Nevada is able to muster should be enough.

UNLV’s only advantage is playing at home in Sam Boyd Stadium, but that’s where they lost to Northern Arizona last month, so what’s that worth?

It won’t be as gruesome as last year’s 37-0 blanking, in which the Rebels were held to just 110 total yards, but the Wolf Pack should have fun in Vegas.

Opening point spread: Nevada by 9 1/2

The pick: Nevada 32-24

Illinois QB Jeff George Jr. moving on as graduate transfer

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Illinois quarterback Jeff George Jr., the son of former NFL quarterback Jeff George, has announced he will look for an opportunity to play football elsewhere in 2018. In a statement shared on his Twitter account Wednesday afternoon, George said he will leave Illinois with a degree in hand, allowing him to pursue a transfer possibility as a graduate transfer.

Thank you to Coach [Lovie Smith] and the entire staff for helping me develop over the past couple years,” George said in his statement on Twitter. “With that being said, after discussions with Coach Smith as well as my family, it would be in my best interest to pursue my athletic career with 2 years of eligibility left at a school that will best utilize the abilities I have to offer.”

George played in seven games for the Illini in 2017 with 1,273 passing yards and seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The only other quarterbacks on the roster to attempt a pass last season were junior Chayce Crouch (who played quarterback in seven games and had 443 passing yards with one touchdown and four interceptions Cam Thomas, a redshirt freshman in 2017. Illinois also has two other freshmen on the roster — Charlie Reinkemeyer and Connor Kelly –  that should make for an interesting quarterback situation this spring.

As a graduate transfer, George will be eligible to play in the fall at any FBS program that welcomes him to their program.

Report: Nick Saban ‘really pushing’ for Hugh Freeze, but SEC might be reluctant to sign off

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Normally what Nick Saban wants Nick Saban gets.  In this case, the head coach may have his work cut out for him.

Reports surfaced earlier this week that disgraced former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze was a visitor to Alabama’s football building.  With the Crimson Tide searching for another offensive coordinator, speculation focused on Freeze as a potential candidate for the opening; others thought an in-house promotion was more likely and that Freeze could assume another role with the program.

According to the latest from the Tuscaloosa NewsAaron Suttles, “Saban is really pushing for Freeze to be an on-the-field coach,” whether it be as coordinator or, perhaps, working with quarterbacks or another positional group.  One problem, per the News, is that some within the program are pushing against such an addition, although, again, if Saban really wants Freeze as an on-field addition he’d get it regardless of who was pushing back.  Another issue, though, could be his conference.

From Suttles’ report:

Another aspect to this is that should Alabama decided to hire Freeze as an on-the-field coach, it would likely need the blessing of SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. Sankey isn’t keen on that happening, The Tuscaloosa News has learned.

The league office’s pause in one of its members giving Freeze his first post-scandal second chance is certainly understandable.

Freeze “resigned” from Ole Miss after it was discovered he was using a school-issued cell phone to hook up with escort services on multiple occasions. Additionally, there were the Rebels’ NCAA issues while Freeze was in charge that left the coach with a two-game suspension to serve; that suspension would not have to be served if Freeze is a coordinator or position coach.  The one-year show-cause Freeze was slapped with, which would impact him on the recruiting trail as a head coach, would not be in effect if he served in a non-head coach capacity.

If the SEC would indeed have an issue with the Freeze hire — and if they actually have a say in the matter — it remains to be seen how far down the Freeze road Saban is willing to travel.

Hawaii’s leading receiver, Dylan Collie, leaving as grad transfer

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Dylan Collie is again on the move, presumably for the final time.

The wide receiver took to Twitter Tuesday night to announce that he has decided it’s in his best interests to transfer from Hawaii.  Collie will be leaving the program as a graduate transfer, giving him immediate eligibility if he opts for another FBS program for his final season of eligibility.

Collie signed with BYU in 2012 but, after completing an LDS Church mission, opted to transfer to Hawaii.

This past season, Collie led the Rainbow Warriors in receptions with 56, and was second in receiving yards (636) and receiving touchdowns (four).  In three years at the Mountain West school, Collie totaled 118 catches for 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns.

Two of Dylan Collie’s brothers, Austin and Zac, played receiver at BYU.  Their father, Scott Collie, also played his college football for the Cougars.

ACC releases complete 2018 football schedule

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The 2017 season was put to bed a little over a week ago, so the focus of the college football world has shifted to 2018.

In that vein, the ACC Wednesday released its football schedule for the upcoming season.  The first game featuring a team from the conference will have Wake Forest traveling to Tulane on Thursday, Aug. 30.  The first league game sees Virginia Tech traveling to Tallahassee on Labor Day to face Florida State in a primetime matchup.

Opening weekend will also see the ACC involved in a pair of neutral-site nonconference matchups: Louisville against defending national champion Alabama in Orlando Saturday, Sept. 1, and Miami facing LSU the next day in Arlington.

There are also five previously-announced games against scheduling partner Notre Dame, including road trips to South Bend for FSU (Nov. 10) and Pitt (Oct. 13).  Wake (Sept. 22) and Virginia Tech (Oct. 6) will play host to the Irish, while Syracuse and Notre Dame will square off at Yankee Stadium Nov. 17.

The release announcing the schedule notes that ACC teams will play more games (19) against Power 5 competition than any other P5, and their members will also play 27 games against non-conference opponents that participated in bowl games last season, the highest total among Power 5 conferences.

“The 2018 ACC Football schedule provides our schools and programs the opportunity to build upon the numerous football successes that have been achieved in recent years,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford in a statement. “Once again, our teams will be facing both a daunting conference schedule and what is collectively the most challenging non-conference schedule in the country. There will be no shortage of excitement for fans on a weekly basis.”

You can click HERE for the composite schedule, HERE for the team-by-team schedule and HERE for the ever-popular logo schedule.