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

Matt Wells makes tweaks, addition to Utah State staff

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 09:  Head coach Matt Wells of the Utah State Aggies watches his team warm up before their game against the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium on November 9, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Utah State won 28-24.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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A couple of tweaks to coaches already in the building as well as an addition from outside the program has given Matt Wells‘ Utah State a different look heading toward spring, the school announced Tuesday.

Passing-game coordinator and wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight has been promoted co-offensive coordinator of the Aggies. Bouknight, entering his eighth season at USU, will continue to coach receivers.

The other co-coordinator, Luke Wells, brother of the head coach, will continue to serve in that capacity, but will give up his job as tight ends coach. Instead, the co-OC will take over as quarterbacks coach from Josh Heupel, who left Logan last month to become the coordinator at Missouri.

“We are excited to announce Jovon and Luke as our co-offensive coordinators,” said Matt Wells in a statement. “They both have extensive experience in our offense and have been successful position coaches during their time at Utah State.

“As we move forward with our offense, I will be heavily involved in the game planning and will call the plays during games. We have time during spring ball to work through this and I am excited to work with Jovon and Luke in making our offense better.”

In addition to the shuffling on the offensive side, Wells made an addition on that side as Steve Farmer was introduced as USU’s line coach.  The past six seasons, Farmer served as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Louisiana-Monroe.

“We are excited to announce the hiring of Steve Farmer as part of our coaching staff,” said the head coach. “Steve has an extensive background in playing and coaching the offensive line, as well as success as an offensive coordinator. He fits very well into our scheme and has had experience in spread offenses and coordinating the run game. We welcome Steve, his wife Amy, and their two children to the Aggie family.”

Jim Harbaugh ponders the attractiveness of whining in firing shot across SEC’s bow

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines reacts to a roughing the kicker call against his team during the first quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Say what you want about Jim Harbaugh, but he certainly makes college football a more interesting sport.  And, arguably more importantly, he keeps his Michigan football program front and center in the 24/7/365 news cycle that the game has become.

Case in point?  Spring practice.

During National Signing Day last week, UM revealed that they intended to spend a portion of spring practice this year parked at a locale in Florida.  Specifically, Harbaugh would haul his Wolverines to the Sunshine State during the school’s spring break to conduct a handful of practices in the heart of SEC country.

Suffice to say, that’s not sitting well with the SEC as the conference has asked the NCAA to block teams from holding spring practices over that school’s spring break.  The league’s commissioner wants to “draw a line and say ‘that’s not appropriate.'”  The media in that part country has followed suit.

Harbaugh’s reaction?

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Harbaugh has proven in his one year in Ann Arbor that, if there is a line, he’s going to push it.  And if there are buttons to be pushed in the southern part of the country?  He’ll gladly take care of that as well.

Lawsuit: Vols player put ‘hit’ on UT teammate who helped rape victim

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 01: The Volunteer mascot waves the flag in the edzone after a Tennessee touchdown as the Tennessee Volunteers defeated  the Mississippi Rebels 27-10 at Neyland Stadium on October 1, 2005 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The football culture at Tennessee is rapidly coming under heavy fire and intense scrutiny, with yet another disturbing layer emerging as more details of a lawsuit come to light.

Tuesday, six unnamed women who claim they were victims of sexual assault at the hands of UT student-athletes filed a federal lawsuit in which they claimed the university “has created a student culture that enables sexual assaults by student-athletes, especially football players, and then uses an unusual, legalistic adjudication process that is biased against victims who step forward.” Four football players, three former and one unnamed current, are mentioned in the suit.

Also mentioned in the suit is a former UT football player, Drae Bowles, who it’s alleged was assaulted by his Vols teammates after he had “taken Plaintiff Doe IV to the hospital the night of her assault and who had supported her decision to report the incident to the authorities.” As it turns out, The Tennessean reports, Bowles was also attacked a few days later at the football facility by the same teammates who had attacked him the first time.

The twin attacks were just part of a pattern of alleged retribution against Bowles by his teammates, as well as what’s been described as “deliberate indifference” on the part of university officials and athletic department personnel.  From the paper’s accounting of the lawsuit, with the “Williams” in question being Mike Williams, a former UT defensive back who’s facing trial next month on rape charges:

While the woman, a student-athlete, was meeting with executive senior associate athletics director Jon Gilbert, senior associate athletics director Mike Ward and her coach, she received a message from her roommate “who was witnessing at that moment several football players jumping” Bowles, the lawsuit says. The woman informed the athletics officials of the incident and was told they would “look into it,” according to the suit. The lawsuit says “athletic coaches were present during that altercation.”

But, the lawsuit says, Williams told police in November 2014 that then-Tennessee defensive back Geraldo Orta had “a hit” out on Bowles.

According to the lawsuit, Orta, a Valdosta, Ga. native, told University of Tennessee police he felt “Bowles betrayed the team and that where (Orta) came from, people got shot for doing what Bowles did.”

Orta told police in an interview conducted during an investigation into the sexual assault claims against Johnson and Williams that he approached Bowles in Smokey’s Café, the athletics dining facility. Orta admitted getting “in (Bowles’) face” and saying “some threatening things,” according to interviews with police cited in the lawsuit.

Orta also told police that then-Tennessee star Curt Maggitt confronted Bowles in the team locker room “before the team was instructed by head coach Butch Jones not to talk to him and before Bowles was given time away from the team,” the suit says.

In interviews with police, Maggitt said he confronted Bowles and said he purchased alcohol for the party at which the Jane Doe plaintiff was allegedly assaulted, the lawsuit says. Neither Orta nor Maggitt were disciplined, according to the lawsuit.

Shortly after the alleged attacks in November of 2014, the first of which came one day after Plaintiff Doe IV was allegedly raped, Bowles transferred out of the football program and continued his playing career at Chattanooga.

The alleged victim helped by the player claimed in the lawsuit that “the incidents involving Bowles contributed to a culture that intimidated victims of sexual assault by football players.”

Cyclones’ third-leading rusher, receiver no longer on team

STILLWATER, OK - OCTOBER 4:   Wide receiver D'Vario Montgomery #8 of the Iowa State Cyclones tries for a touchdown pass as cornerback Ramon Richards #18 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys defends October 4, 2014 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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Ahead of the start of spring practice next month, Iowa State’s returning offensive production has taken a significant hit.

Wednesday, ISU announced in a press release that wide receiver D'Vario Montgomery and running back Joshua Thomas are no longer a part of first-year head coach Matt Campbell‘s Cyclones football program. Montgomery was dismissed by Campbell for the standard unspecified violations of team rules, while Thomas has decided to transfer out.

Last season as a redshirt junior, Montgomery was third on the team in receiving yards (335) and receiving touchdowns (three), while his 27 receptions were fourth. A year earlier, he led the Cyclones with 605 yards receiving.

Montgomery came to ISU as a transfer from USF in 2013.

Thomas, meanwhile, was second among Cyclone running backs with 295 yards rushing, and led the team with seven rushing touchdowns. With the emergence of Freshman All-American Mike Warren (team-leading 1,339 yards), however, the freshman Thomas has opted to transfer to another program that might give him a better opportunity to be a feature back.

Thomas is actually the second ISU running back to transfer in less than a month. In late January, it was confirmed that Tyler Brown, who began 2015 as the starter, had decided to leave Ames as well.