Predictions 101 — Week 9

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There we were, sitting as pretty as pretty can be. Six games already nestled comfortably in P101’s bag, half of which were upsets.

We really didn’t need to pull off a clean sweep. We’d be as proud of 6-1 as Maria Sharapova. And any “player” worth his salt would have hedged his way into the winner’s circle, turning the Florida State-Miami game into an exercise to see how much gravy could be found.

But there we were, watching the Hurricanes do more than hold their own. The pregame smoke and the first quarter mirrors had them up 10-0 … a good thing in our book. We knew what was coming.

It came … and the Seminole margin was oh so sweet in the fourth quarter. That is until the entire gridiron became four-down territory for Miami, which led to a touchdown being gifted to FSU with 2:45 remaining.

The Seminoles led, 33-13, and we’re dealing with opening lines (+17.5) here at P101, not closing ones (+21). So, we were sunk. The Hurricanes still had a couple minutes to work with, but they weren’t going to kick a field goal and hadn’t mounted a touchdown drive since a meager 22-yarder within the first four minutes of the game.

But Brent & Herbie seemed to share some belief, cheering Miami on down the field. They giggled while mentioning “interested mathematicians” a couple times along the way.

Sure enough, the Hurricanes went 75 yards in eight plays and got the job done.

Yes. Finally. Last week, we went 7-0 straight and 7-0 versus “the number.” Holy Toledo (thank you, Rockets), 14-0!

Oh well … on to this week, where we can only go down from here.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Oct. 25, thru Sat., Oct. 27)

1) No. 3 Florida vs. No. 12 Georgia (at Jacksonville, Fla.)
Sat., Oct. 27 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

If South Carolina players were to judge this fight, there’s no question who they’d predict as winners. Two weeks after they hosted and routed Georgia, 35-7, the Gamecocks got roughed up at Florida, 44-11.

Too bad the transitive property doesn’t apply to college football. If it did, we could just call for a 61-point Gator victory and be done with it.

All that aside, Florida does hold a clear edge in this game.

Despite the fact that Georgia had the most fun at the last “Cocktail Party,” winning 24-20, the Gators have dominated this rivalry for more than a couple decades, taking 18 of the last 22. And this one doesn’t seem to match up well for the Bulldogs.

Last week, Georgia allowed Kentucky to rush for 206 yards. Please note that the Wildcats came into that contest ranked 106th in the country in rushing offense. Granted, the poor run defense and less-than-impressive 29-24 victory in Lexington came without the services of outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who was resting a sprained right ankle, and defensive end Abry Jones, who injured his left ankle in the first quarter, but we’re still talking Kentucky here.

It doesn’t look promising for the disappointing Bulldog defense, which is yielding 24 points and 367 total yards per game, as it lines up against the Gators’ powerful run game.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is one of the more efficient passers in the nation, but in the loss at South Carolina he showed that consistent pressure from a variety of sources can really knock him off-kilter. The Bulldogs can’t afford for that to happen since running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are finally starting to look like freshmen.

Last week, we talked up Florida’s excellent punt unit and it did play a large role in the Gator victory over South Carolina. Here we go again. Georgia ranks dead last in the SEC and 109th in the country in net punting. It might be most apparent on special teams, but the Gators have a significant advantage over the Bulldogs in all three phases of the game.

Opening point spread: Florida by 3 1/2

The pick: Florida 31-20

2) No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 8 Oklahoma
Sat., Oct. 27 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

As they roll into Norman for the first time in 46 years, the Fighting Irish will encounter a Sooner team far different from the one Ara Parseghian’s 1966 squad squashed, 38-0, on its way to a national championship.

The current Oklahoma team, which has scored 156 points in its last three games, won’t be blanked. This will be the Sooners’ third consecutive home game and in the previous two — a 63-21 slaying of Texas, followed by a 52-7 rout over Kansas — the offense scored on 15 of 20 drives, 12 of which were touchdowns.

After this week, we won’t be hearing about how Notre Dame hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all year.

We’ll take Oklahoma’s duo of Landry Jones and Blake Bell (leads team with eight rushing touchdowns) over ND’s Everett Golson and Tommy Rees. While Jones and Bell operate efficiently in their clearly defined roles, the feeling here is that the Sooner defense, which has come up with nine takeaways in the last three games, will squeeze game-changing turnovers out of the Irish backfield.

Yes, college football is much better off when the Golden Domers are relevant, but put the hype aside for a moment and take a long look at their schedule and results. You’ll realize that our friends in the desert are seeing this one clearly.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 9

The pick: Oklahoma 27-13

3) No. 15 Texas Tech at No. 4 Kansas State
Sat., Oct. 27 — 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

The Red Raiders have the talent and coaching to beat the Wildcats, but do they have the answer for “Optimus Klein.”

Led by quarterback Collin Klein, the current Heisman Trophy frontrunner, Kansas State is also talented and well coached. The Wildcats will scratch and claw to defend their conference and national title hopes. Bill Snyder’s balanced team doesn’t make mistakes. Only one squad in the country (Ohio, which also is 7-0) has had fewer turnovers than the Wildcats (just four).

You wouldn’t know it by his throwing motion, but Klein ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency. His counterpart, Seth Doege, isn’t far behind in fifth and directs an aerial assault that averages 362 yards per game.

But it isn’t all about offense at Texas Tech, which is home to a stout defense that’s ranked seventh in total defense and is particularly effective versus the pass.

Something’s got to give, but maybe it’ll require some extra time to happen.

We’ll take a stab and say that Red Raiders get held to a field goal on their first overtime possession, leaving “Optimus” the opportunity for a Heisman moment as he pounds into the end zone for the win.

Opening point spread: Kansas State by 8

The pick: Kansas State 33-30

4) No. 13 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama
Sat., Oct. 27 — 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

We can’t remember a game between teams ranked within the top 13 that is so disparate on paper.

Off paper, however, it has the makings of a trap game for the Crimson Tide, who travel to LSU next week. That’s where Nick Saban comes in … and we go back to what we see in black and white.

We’ll be the first to dump loads upon loads of credit at the feet of Dan Mullen for the job he’s done in Starkville. Nine consecutive victories versus anybody, is still nine consecutive victories. No less than 117 FBS teams would love to boast of such a winning streak.

But we have to be honest and point out that the Bulldogs’ sparkling 3-0 record in SEC play comes at the expense of Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee. Those three teams not only weren’t able to beat Mississippi State, they haven’t won any conference games so far this season in a total of 14 tries.

Alabama leads the nation in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing efficiency defense, so it ain’t any shock that only one team has lost by less than 27 points to the Tide this season. That tight 33-14 victory over Ole Miss essentially served as their “wake up call.” Saban’s gang isn’t falling into any traps.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 24

The pick: Alabama 41-13

5) Duke at No. 11 Florida State
Sat., Oct. 27 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

How could we exclude a game between the undisputed leaders of the ACC’s Atlantic and Coastal Divisions? Yup, you read that right.

Hooray for the Blue Devils, who are bowl eligible for the first time in 18 years, but still hungry.

After their big 33-20 victory at Miami last Saturday night, the Seminoles will spend a full week in Tallahassee having their backs slapped.

Duke’s defense is porous, but it does force turnovers. Something’s telling us that the Blue Devils will stay within range.

Opening point spread: Florida State by 26

The pick: Florida State 41-17

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Mississippi at Arkansas
Sat., Oct. 27 — 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network

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

Forgive us if we’re not impressed by blowout victories over Auburn and Kentucky, who are a combined 0-10 in SEC play. We don’t see it as a signal that the Razorbacks ship has been righted after four painful defeats earlier in the season, which produced some epic press conference moments for John L. Smith.

With kickoff at just past 11 a.m. local time in Little Rock, the Hog faithful are likely to lack their typical fervor, if there is any left after the last time Arkansas played at War Memorial Stadium and were knocked from their lofty perch in the Top-10 with a 34-31 overtime loss to mighty Louisiana-Monroe (still the only team Auburn’s been able to beat).

Both teams enter with a pair of conference losses to the same schools, but Ole Miss was much more competitive while falling a field goal short against Texas A&M and losing by just 19 at Alabama. Conversely, Arkansas was taken to the woodshed by a combined score of 110-10 against those same foes.

Each offensive unit can move the ball through the air, but a Rebel defense that allows just 210 yards passing per game is much more likely to slow the opposition down than a Razorback unit that ranks near the bottom of the FBS, allowing 304 yards through the air.

Opening point spread: Arkansas by 4 1/2

The pick: Mississippi 31-27

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Cincinnati at No. 16 Louisville
Fri., Oct. 26 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

If the “Keg of Nails” were actually a keg filled with nails, it would be the best rivalry trophy in the land. But even though it’s merely a painted empty keg, it’s still in the conversation. It just sounds so awesome! No wonder the Bearcats and Cardinals annually lay it all on the line for the “Keg of Nails.”

The original “Keg of Nails” (yes, this one is actually “Son of Keg of Nails”) was first awarded in 1929, signifying that the players on the winning team were as “tough as nails.” Ah … college football …

As a side note: We don’t believe the tale about the original “Keg of Nails” being misplaced and lost during some office construction at Louisville. C’mon, who would lose track of a keg of nails, trophy or not? Seriously now, the Cardinals should be docked three points in each game until they come up with it.

Last week, we gave you Toledo over Cincinnati. This week, we’re tempted to give you the Bearcats. Cincinnati has been in control of the series as of late, winning the past four, and should have the emotional edge as they drive along Interstate 71.

But, when your problems are turning over the football and giving up big plays, the corrections aren’t easy to find.

The Cardinals, led by sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (21-of-25 for 256 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s over South Florida), are much more reliable at this point.

Opening point spread: Louisville by 6

The pick: Louisville 27-26

Five-star 2017 Auburn signee undergoes ‘minor procedure,’ should be a go for start of summer camp

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It appears Auburn has dodged what could’ve been a significant injury bullet.

Citing a person familiar with the situation, Brandon Marcello of the Auburn arm of 247Sports.com is reporting that Calvin Ashley underwent a procedure on one of his eyes recently.  SECCountry.com described it as “a minor procedure”; both websites stated that the touted offensive tackle will be ready for the start of summer camp on July 31, this coming Monday.

The reports come a few days after Ashley posted a picture on social media of what appeared to be him in a hospital room.

The football program has not yet, at least publicly, addressed what if any type of health issue with which Ashley is dealing.

A five-star member of the Tigers’ 2017 recruiting class, Ashley was rated as the No. 6 tackle in the country; the No. 1 player at any position in Washington D.C.; and the No. 27 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  Ashley was the highest-rated player in AU’s class this year, the only five-star recruit pulled in by Gus Malzahn and company this cycle.

The 6-6, 310-pound Ashley is expected to compete immediately for the starting job at left tackle.

USC the media’s choice to win 2017 Pac-12 title

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Thanks to how they finished the 2016 season, USC is getting substantial preseason love heading into the 2017 season.  Not surprisingly, that affection continued Wednesday.

At the Pac-12 Media Days Wednesday, 28 of the 52 media members covering the conference picked USC to win the league’s title this season.  Another 22 picked reigning champion Washington to defend its title, while there was one vote each for Oregon and Utah.

Both USC and UW received 49 first-place votes when it comes to winning the South and North divisions, respectively.  Oregon, Stanford and Washington State received one first-place vote each to win the North Division, while Colorado, UCLA and Utah received the same for the South crown.

Also of note from the opening of media days:

  • The Pac-12 Championship Game will remain at Levi’s Stadium through the 2019 season, with an option for 2020 as well.  The home of the San Francisco 49ers has been the venue for the conference’s last two title games.  New NFL stadiums in Inglewood and Las Vegas will be options beyond that.
  • Halftime of games broadcasted on Pac-12 Networks will be reduced from 20 minutes to 15.  In an attempt to further shorten the length of games, commercial breaks during those games will be reduced as well. “We are trying to be progressive and experiment with ways to manage the game presentation through a reduction of TV timeouts and some of the 30-second commercial spots,” commissioner Larry Scott said as the league targets three hours as the ideal game time.
  • The conference has centralized its replay reviews for all 12 teams this season after experimenting with centralization for two teams in 2016.

USC confirms K Matt Boermeester won’t return to Trojans

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What was rumored a few months ago has been confirmed.

In early February, USC announced that an unspecified code of conduct issue had led the football program to indefinitely suspend Matt Boermeester.  At the time, reports had an incident involving the placekicker’s ex-girlfriend as the trigger for the suspension, although no details surrounding that situation were released.

Fast-forward to late July, and the school officially confirmed that Boermeester is no longer a Trojan.

“Boermeester… won’t return because of a student code of conduct issue,” the football program wrote in its preseason notes package.

In his first season as USC’s starting kicker last year, Boermeester connected on 75 percent of his 25 field goal attempts and all but one of his 54 point afters.  His 46-yard field goal with no time left on the clock pushed USC past Penn State in an epic comeback win in the Rose Bowl.

The 18 field goals on which Boermeester connected in 2016 were one shy of tying the school’s single-season record.

Michael Brown is the only other kicker currently listed on USC’s online roster.  Brown has yet to attempt a kick at the collegiate level.

Report: Ole Miss wants NCAA to require two Miss. St. players to attend hearing

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Thanks to off-field events, the Egg Bowl rivalry has ratcheted up a notch or 12 in the last week or so — after ratcheting up several levels the previous months.

Monday, ESPN.com‘s Mark Schlabach reported that it was a lifelong Mississippi State fan who discovered the infamous call to a number connected to an escort service and led to Hugh Freeze being forcefully ousted at Ole Miss.  Two days later, Schlabach is reporting that attorneys representing the university and former coaches accused of wrongdoing are asking the NCAA that it require two Mississippi State football players, Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones, to appear at their hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions later this year.

At this point in time, it’s unclear whether either player has received a notice to appear.

Jones, a four-star 2016 signee, has alleged that an Ole Miss booster paid him upwards of $15,000 as an inducement to go to the Rebels before he signed with the rival Bulldogs. “Lewis also accused Rebels boosters and former coaches of arranging for him to receive free transportation, lodging, food and meals and memorabilia and clothing from Rebel Rags, a retail store in Oxford,” Schlabach wrote Wednesday.

The Oxford retailer filed a lawsuit last month against, among others, Jones and Lewis alleging “defamation, slander, conspiracy and commercial disparagement stemming from false statements made to the NCAA.” On at least three occasions, the Bulldog duo spoke to the NCAA and its investigators regarding their allegations made against the rival program.

From Schlabach’s latest report:

The NCAA previously denied Ole Miss lawyers’ requests to interview Jones and Lewis about allegations they made during the NCAA’s investigation of the Rebels. In fact, Lewis’ attorneys stopped the second of three interviews with NCAA investigators after Ole Miss’ lawyers attempted to cross-examine him. Ole Miss wasn’t allowed to have an attorney at his third interview.

Jones and Lewis were provided partial immunity by NCAA investigators before they were interviewed.

The NCAA has accused the Ole Miss football program of 21 violations, 15 of which are the most serious under The Association’s penalty structure.  Ole Miss self-imposed a bowl ban for the 2017 season as well as stripped itself of seven scholarships.  Additionally, they will forfeit all postseason revenues for the upcoming season, a number in excess of $7 million.  It’s expected the NCAA will add to those self-imposed sanctions.

The university received its Notice of Allegations from the NCAA back in February, releasing its response to the NOA early last month.

Former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt and his attorney filed a lawsuit earlier this month as well, alleging that Freeze and other Ole Miss officials engaged in a clandestine smear campaign to pin the NCAA investigation into the Rebels’ football program in large part on Nutt. The lawsuit levied some rather serious allegations, including Freeze allegedly conducting off-the-record conversations with prominent journalists and recruits to falsely spread the narrative that the lion’s share of NCAA recruiting violations occurred under Nutt’s watch.