Cocktail

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

Big 12 presidents take vow of public uniformity

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby arrives to speak to reporters after the first day of the conference's meeting Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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There may be plenty of heated debates and conversations behind closed doors, but when it comes to showing the public their stance, the leaders of the Big 12 have agreed to stand together for the greater good of the Big 12. On Friday, Big 12 presidents and chancellors agreed to defer all comments to commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

The show of uniformity in refraining from comment appears to put Oklahoma president David Boren on notice. Boren had made headlines with his public remarks regarding the stability of the Big 12 by suggesting the conference was psychologically disadvantaged in the power conference landscape, speaking out in favor of expansion and lamenting the missed opportunity to add Louisville to the conference. Boren’s comments have either been echoed by fellow Big 12 leaders or disputed by others. Boren speaking out gave credence to the idea the Big 12 really is not standing on solid ground as a conference, because if Oklahoma is not happy with the state of the Big 12, then there are issues that will continue to be problematic. For the Big 12 to be stable, it likely needs Oklahoma and Texas to be happy. Now, no matter what Boren really thinks, he is essentially muzzled on the big topics for the Big 12.

After two days of meetings, the Big 12 essentially comes out of their meetings silent and without any drastic changes in the works. Expansion was discussed during the recent meetings, but no specific candidates were discussed during the board of directors meeting. Bowlsby did suggest there may not be an ideal number for the conference, which is currently operating with 10 members.

So for now, as has been the case for the last few years, there is no movement on the expansion front for the Big 12, which may be disheartening to fans of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF and any other number of programs dreaming and wishing for an invite to the power conference.

UAB approves funding for $15 million football facility

UAB coach Bill Clark watches during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
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The rebirth of UAB football continues to be underway. Days after signing its latest recruiting class (which actually ranked ahead of four Conference USA teams) and confirming its coaching staff to continue preparing for the program’s return in 2017, UAB’s Board of Trustees approved the funding for a $15 million football facility to be built on campus.

The 46,000-square foot facility will include updated locker rooms, administrative offices weight rooms and more to allow for the operation of a steady football program. This is the kind of support the program lacked at the time it was temporarily and hastily shutdown at the end of the 2014 season. It is important to keep in mind, however, this is still a work in progress for the university as it prepares to properly support its football program.

“Do the stars need to align a little bit? Yes, but so far they are,” UAB Athletic Director Mark Ingram said, per Al.com. “We feel great about the design efforts… People are making pledges.”

UAB head coach Bill Clark, who has admirably opted to stay in Birmingham to lead the program through this unique time, seems appreciative of the show of support from the university’s higher-ups.

“It’s just confirmation of where we’ve already been headed,” Clark said. “It’s a process that you go through at the university level to get buildings built, and for them to put phase one and phase two together is a big deal because it really just speeds the process up.”

Cold Turkey: Big 12 bumps Texas-TCU form Thanksgiving to Black Friday

A Texas fan dressed up as a Thanksgiving turkey shows disappointment over the performance of the Longhorns during the first half of an NCAA college football game against TCU, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
AP Photo/Ashley Landis
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The Big 12 announced a pair of adjustments to its 2016 conference schedule this morning. The more notable of the two changes is the move of Texas and TCU’s Thanksgiving night game to the next day, Black Friday. The game scheduled to be played in Austin on Thanksgiving night will now be played the following day as part of a request of television partners ESPN and FOX.

This will mark the second straight season TCU has played on Black Friday. Last season the Horned Frogs defeated Baylor in one of the sloppier weather games of the year. Playing on Thanksgiving had been a long-standing tradition for the Longhorns. Texas squared off with rival Texas A&M 69 times before the Aggies departed the conference for the SEC. Without the Aggies to play on Thanksgiving, Texas has kept that tradition going with games against either Texas Tech or TCU. However, the addition of a third game in primetime to the NFL schedule ahs created a bit of a stir when it comes to television partners. Knowing the NFL will grab the large majority of the football viewers on Thanksgiving night, the Big 12 now avoids being in the NFL’s dark, ominous shadow. Time will tell if this is a one-year deal, and hopefully it is. Some of us actually prefer watching college football on Thursday night.*

Texas Tech’s home game against Kansas has actually been moved up a couple of days to Thursday, September 29. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday, October 1. Now it will get a chance to shine on primetime on either ESPN or FOX Sports 1. The Big 12’s television dates have not been announced, so it remains to be seen if this game will be aired on ESPN or FS1.

*Full disclosure: NBC will begin airing Thursday night NFL games this season, so this statement is voided in the event NBC is airing the Thanksgiving night NFL game because the almighty peacock would not look favorably upon me if I stood by that statement!

USC AD Pat Haden to retire

Southern California athletic director Pat Haden looks on during the second half of their NCAA college football game against Arizona, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in Los Angeles. USC won 38-31. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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USC athletics director Pat Haden is retiring, the school has announced. Haden, who has come under fire for a handful of reasons in recent years, will officially retire from his position as athletics director of USC on June 30, 2016. He will continue to work with USC for the next calendar year to assist with the renovations of the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Haden took on the role of AD at USC in 2010 after serving as a trustee of the university. Haden took on the job as USC looked to recover from fresh NCAA sanctions against the football and men’s basketball program (see: Reggie Bush). Haden made two coaching hires at USC, including the most recent hiring of Clay Helton after he had been an interim coach for the Trojans. The hiring of Steve Sarkisian ended up being a notable failure for Haden. USC also reworked its approach to academic standards under Haden’s leadership, which has proven to pay off with improved GPAs and graduation rates.

Haden was also one of the first members of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Haden stepped down from his position after receiving advice from a doctor to limit his involvement.

USC will now open a worldwide search for the next AD, which should be a search that attracts a number of high-profile candidates. USC president C.L. Max Nikias says he will work with Nick Brill, principal and co-founder of the Brill Neumann executive search firm in finding the new AD. There is no timeline for making a new hire, but there should be plenty of time to have a new permanent AD in place or ready to take over by the time Haden’s term as AD expires over the summer.