Spurrier Miles

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

No. 3 Clemson punches playoff ticket with ACC championship win over Virginia Tech

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 03:  The Clemson Tigers take the field during the ACC Championship against the Virginia Tech Hokies on December 3, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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For the second straight season, Clemson can say they punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff with yet another close ACC championship game victory.

The third-ranked Tigers jumped out to a big lead, led throughout and ultimately prevailed over Virginia Tech in a 42-35 win that was a tad closer than the final score indicated.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson continued his stellar play down the stretch this season, throwing for 288 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The signal-caller added another two scores on the ground to go with his team-high 85 yards rushing as well on a night where he made some clutch throws down the stretch to keep the team in front of a stingy Bud Foster defense.

Tailback Wayne Gallman also found the end zone in Orlando but was still relatively limited with just 59 yards on 17 carries.

The Hokies did make sure Clemson sweated out things by threatening in the second and third quarters. Quarterback Jerod Evans threw for 264 yards and a touchdown but couldn’t get any help from Virginia Tech’s normally reliable ground game and threw an interception with 71 seconds left to end a comeback. Evans also led the team in rushing and scored twice while running back Travon McMillian did the same but managed to do so on only 37 yards rushing.

With a second straight ACC title in the bag for Dabo Swinney and company, the only question left for Clemson is where will they stand on Sunday afternoon and what semifinal site they will head to. Alabama appears locked into the No. 1 seed in the Peach Bowl but could the close result against Virginia Tech — combined with Washington’s emphatic win in the Pac-12 title game — force a national title game rematch in Atlanta?

That’s probably not on the minds of the Tigers on Saturday night as they rightfully celebrate yet another league championship and look like a dangerous team to face at the end of the month.

No. 7 Penn State completes comeback for the ages to claim B1G title

Penn State's Saquon Barkley (26) makes an 18-yard touchdown catch against Wisconsin's T.J. Watt (42) during the second half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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On Sept. 24, Penn State was 2-2 on the season, 0-1 in Big Ten play after a 49-10 undressing by Michigan in Ann Arbor. Their Big Ten title hopes were left for dead. As we know, they managed to rally and win the Big Ten East.

And then, with 5:15 left in the second quarter, the Nittany Lions trailed 28-7 and their chances of actually winning the game were again left for dead.

But the Cardiac Cats rallied. Again. The seventh-ranked Lions closed the game on a 31-3 run to race past No. 6 Wisconsin for a 38-31 Big Ten Championship victory.

Of course, this win means much more than that. At 11-2 on the season, winners of nine in a row and winners of college football’s best conference, the question now becomes whether the College Football Playoff selection committee chooses the Lions over 11-1 Ohio State or Pac-12 champion Washington on Sunday.

But first, the comeback.

Penn State simply could not get out of its own way — or get Wisconsin out of its way… or get in Wisconsin’s way, for that matter — over the game’s first 25 minutes. The Badgers opened by forcing two three-and-outs and launching two long touchdown drives to grab a 14-0 lead a dozen minutes into the game. After a McSorley touchdown pass put Penn State on the board, the Nittany Lions allowed an errant snap to be returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

James Franklin elected to go for a fourth-and-short in his own territory on the ensuing possession and was rebuffed. Wisconsin again capitalized on the mistake to grab a 28-7 lead with 5:15 remaining in the first half. Penn State again failed on a fourth-and-short near midfield on the next possession, but this time the Badgers failed to cash in. And that proved costly.

Because that failure to land the death blow allowed Penn State’s Cardiac Cats persona to awaken.

The Lions’ comeback started when McSorley hit Saeed Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown catch with 58 seconds left in the half to pull within  a more manageable 28-14 deficit at the break.

After Wisconsin missed a field goal to open the second half, McSorley answered by finding Blacknall for a 70-yard scoring strike on the very next play. Then Penn State tied the game on its next touch as Saquon Barkley punched in a 1-yard score at the 4:22 mark of the third quarter.

Wisconsin re-gained the lead with a 23-yard Andrew Endicott chip shot, but only after Bart Houston missed what would have been a walk-in touchdown to tight end Troy Fumagalli on 2nd-and-8 from the 10-yard line.

Given the opportunity to take the lead, Penn State took full advantage, marching 81 yards in only four plays as Barkley hauled in an 18-yard wheel route from McSorley.

McSorley finished the game hitting 22-of-31 passes for 384 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions — against a defense that came in allowing eight touchdowns while swiping 21 interceptions. Compared to Houston’s numbers — 16-of-21 for 174 yards — quarterback play proved to be the difference in the game. McSorley’s play allowed Penn State to win a game in which it was out-rushed 241-51.

Wisconsin punted on its next touch, and Penn State missed its chance to deliver a knockout punch, instead settling for a 24-yard Tyler Davis field goal with 5:14 to play in the game.

Wisconsin would need a touchdown to force overtime, while Penn State would need a stop to complete its 21-point comeback. The Badgers moved to the Penn State 24, but, facing a 4th-and-1, Corey Clement was stuffed for no gain.

Penn State expired the final 58 seconds and secured the largest comeback ever in a Power 5 conference championship game.

Arkansas State, Appalachian State end up as SBC co-champs

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Two of the 10 FBS conferences don’t have championship games to determine a league champion.  The Big 12, which will go to a title game format next season, crowned an undisputed champion earlier today.  The other game-less league, on the other hand, will have more than one official champ.

Arkansas State had the opportunity to potentially win the Sun Belt Conference outright, but lost in Week 13 to drop to 6-1 in conference play.  Appalachian State won the same weekend to finish the season at 7-1 and claim at least a share of league title.

ASU and Troy, both 6-1 entering Week 14, needed a win to claim its share.

Troy failed miserably, falling 28-24 on the road to a Georgia Southern team that entered the game 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the SBC.  ASU, though, passed its final regular season test, putting 20 fourth-quarter points on the scoreboard in getting past Texas State in a 36-14 win in San Marcos.

The Red Wolves have now won five SBC titles the past six years, with three of those (2011, 2012, 2015) being undisputed.  They’re also the first team since Troy was in the midst of a five-year run from 2006-10 to win back-to-back championships.

As for App State, this is the Mountaineers’ first FBS league championship since moving to the SBC from the FCS for the 2014 season.

The three teams at the top of the SBC will play in some combination of the New Orleans/Dollar General/Camellia Bowls.  Arkansas State will be playing in its sixth straight bowl game, while Appalachian State will be in its second in a row in just its third season at this level.  Troy, meanwhile, will be making its first postseason appearance since winning the New Orleans Bowl in 2010.

San Diego State runs past Wyoming for second straight Mountain West title

San Diego State's Donnel Humphrey runs for a touchdown during the first half against Wyoming in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Laramie, Wyo. (AP Photo/Michael Smith)
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They say revenge is a dish best served cold. San Diego State checked off both boxes on Saturday night.

The Aztecs captured their second straight Mountain West championship and avenged an earlier loss with a 27-24 win over Wyoming in freezing conditions up in Laramie.

The San Diego State ground game was clicking all night long in a game where it was difficult to get much of anything through the air. Star tailback Donnel Pumphrey finished with 110 yards and a touchdown, passing former Texas great Ricky Williams to become the second leading rusher in FBS history late in the third quarter. The senior trails only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne by 108 yards on the all-time list with a chance to top his mark later this month in what will likely be a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Pumphrey’s backup Rashaad Penny wasn’t too shabby either, picking up a team-high 117 yards on the ground and finding the end zone twice. It was a good thing both players were humming in the backfield as quarterback Christian Chapman managed only 85 yards on six completions.

The SDSU defense also came to play in one of their best performances in a while. They picked off Wyoming’s Josh Allen twice, recovered a fumble late in the second half and bottled up the prolific runner Brian Hill to the tune of just 93 yards.

The Cowboys made a run to close the gap to just a field goal in the fourth quarter but couldn’t quite get over the hump for their second win in as many weeks over the Aztecs for a first ever Mountain West title.

Instead it was Rocky Long’s San Diego State squad that could lay claim to being the best in the conference this season for the second year in a row.