Predictions 101 — Week 10

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After a perfect Week 9, the fall from grace last week was inevitable.

Last week, we went 5-2 straight, losing the two biggest games (good for Georgia and Notre Dame, bad for us), and 3-4 versus “the number.”

On the bright side, the USOTW is on a roll (good news for Maryland on Saturday).

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 1, thru Sat., Nov. 3)

1) No. 1 Alabama at No. 5 LSU
Sat., Nov. 3 — 8 p.m. ET, CBS

No offense to the parties involved, but we’re tickled that another rematch between these two in January appears to be out of the question. We like old school football, but it’s kind of “too much of a good thing,” and also a lack of fireworks issue.

In this one, we’re seriously wondering if the Tigers will get into the end zone. When you’re saying that about a Top 5 team playing at home, that’s really something, but LSU was able to muster only three field goals in its two meetings with Alabama last season. Of course, that was good enough to earn a split with the Crimson Tide, who were able to register just one touchdown in that twin-bill.

Considering the fact that the Tigers have had to play with five different offensive line combinations this season, in front of rocky quarterbacking, it’s hard to figure where the points are going to come from against Alabama’s rock-solid defense.

LSU ranks eighth in the SEC in both scoring and total offense, and is particularly challenged in the pass game (11th in SEC in passing efficiency and 12th in passing offense).

Playing in Death Valley, however, will be a significant plus for Les Miles’ crew, which is also more battle tested than the Tide. This will be the Tigers’ fourth consecutive game against ranked opposition. Prior to last Saturday’s 38-7 victory over Mississippi State, Alabama hadn’t faced a ranked foe since the season opener versus Michigan.

Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron counteracts many of LSU’s advantages through his leadership and decision making under fire. He leads the nation in passing efficiency and has yet to throw an interception this season.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 7

The pick: Alabama 20-6

2) No. 2 Oregon at No. 18 USC
Sat., Nov. 3 — 7 p.m. ET, FOX

The Trojans won’t need any help from themselves to lose to the Ducks. Oregon is more than capable of flying past USC all by its lonesome, unlike Arizona, which needed Troy to participate by burying itself last Saturday.

The deadly mix of five turnovers, 13 penalties and Lane Kiffin’s wretched coaching will get you every time, even in Tucson.

And now the Trojans step way up in class as they host the Ducks, who have no shortage of motivation to add USC to their growing list of victims. The Trojans are the only non-SEC team to beat Oregon since the start of the 2010 season and since that 38-35 defeat last November, the Ducks have won 11 straight, scoring 40 or more points each time.

Oregon currently leads the nation in scoring with 53.4 points per game.

USC leads the nation in getting the least out of their talent.

The once-thought-to-be-mighty Trojans rank fifth in the Pac-12 in total offense and sixth in total defense. The writing is already on the walls in Troy. Mr. Kiffin will shepherd USC through the rest of the probationary period and then be shown the door. (Unless some poor misguided soul decides that Kiffin is the answer and hires him away first. Don’t laugh. It has happened a couple times before.)

It’ll be surreal to see the Trojans melt in their own Coliseum, but we just can see it going down any other way.

The Ducks are incredibly fast starters, outscoring opponents, 290-56, in the first half this season. But, while Oregon won’t be able to turn the game over to backups after the second quarter as it normally does, USC isn’t capable of playing catch up.

The Trojans have scored only 28 points in the third quarter all season. Yes, eight games, 28 points. Yikes. Obviously, making the proper halftime adjustments is a concept that’s completely foreign to the Kiffin brain trust.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 6

The pick: Oregon 49-31

3) Oklahoma State at No. 3 Kansas State
Sat., Nov. 3 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

This one seems very clear on paper. That’s the only thing that makes us nervous.

The Wildcats have already dealt with the likes of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech, limiting each of them to 24 points or less. Therefore, what reason would there be to not side with a Kansas State team that’s averaging more than 44 points and has scored 55 points in back-to-back games?

Furthermore, the Wildcats rank first in the Big 12 and fifth in the nation in turnover margin (+1.9). Giving extra possessions to quarterback Collin Klein equals “no chance.”

Klein’s counterpart, Wes Lunt, returned to action last week in a victory over TCU, after missing the three previous games with a knee injury. He completed 18-of-33 for 324 yards and got into a groove as the game went on, leading the Cowboys to 36 unanswered points after falling behind 14-0.

We doubt Lunt will continue with that momentum in Manhattan in what will be only the second start on the road for the redshirt freshman.

Opening point spread: Kansas State by 7

The pick: Kansas State 41-24

4) Pittsburgh at No. 4 Notre Dame
Sat., Nov. 3 — 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

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

The Panthers roll into South Bend hoping to wreck the Fighting Irish’s perfect season and BCS title dreams. The possibility does exist since we’ve got a double-digit favorite coming home off a massive victory on the road to face a scrappy spoiler with nothing to lose. We’ve seen this sort of upset many times before, even under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus.

But with Notre Dame’s return to relevance and so much on the line, including a Heisman Trophy campaign for linebacker Manti Te‘o, we believe focus won’t waver. The Irish are further bolstered by the third-quarter display at Oklahoma last week that featured clock killing 12- and 13-play drives.

Pitt won’t see the ball nearly enough to even think about pulling off a shocker. And when they do, Te‘o will be in the way. He might even get into the end zone for a Heisman moment and match the Panthers’ scoring output.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 19

The pick: Notre Dame 41-6

5) No. 16 Texas A&M at No. 17 Mississippi State
Sat., Nov. 3 — noon ET, ESPN

Last week’s divergent results and America’s growing fascination with Johnny Manziel cloud the reality here in our book.

We aren’t saying to discount the fact that the Aggies dropped 63 points on Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium or forget about the way the Bulldogs were dominated at Alabama last Saturday. However, when looking at this particular game on its own, it appears to be close to a draw.

Manziel’s ability to make plays is simply amazing, but Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins will be able to counterpunch effectively.

This season ending gauntlet for the Bulldogs is off the charts (Bama, A&M, LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss), but something is telling us that they’ll pickup at least a couple wins and this is one of them.

Opening point spread: Texas A&M by 2 1/2

The pick: Mississippi State 28-27

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Georgia Tech at Maryland
Sat., Nov. 3 — 12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network

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

This is an intriguing matchup as Georgia Tech can only move the football on the ground and Maryland boasts one of the nation’s best defenses, which allows less than 78 rushing yards per game.

In the past two weeks, the Terrapins combined to allow just 48 yards rushing, but suffered a pair of heart-breaking ACC setbacks to North Carolina State and Boston College. Maryland has lost by a field goal or less in three of their four defeats.

How will the Terps move the ball? Their 116th ranked offense hasn’t done much of that all year and they are without a healthy scholarship quarterback after seeing all four of them go down with injuries.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and that means true freshman Shawn Petty, who was previously a linebacker, gets the nod. Last year at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Petty tossed 15 touchdown strikes against four interceptions, and added another nine scores on the ground while running an option offense.

The Yellow Jackets enter below .500 and are still searching for their first road win.

In the battle of options, we’ll go with the home team that has played close games all year and might just get another big special teams play from freshman wideout Stefon Diggs.

Opening point spread: Georgia Tech by 7

The pick: Maryland 16-13

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Michigan at Minnesota
Sat., Nov. 3 — noon ET, Big Ten Network

In 1903, legendary Michigan head coach Fielding Yost feared that Minnesota fans might contaminate his water supply, so he instructed student manager Tommy Roberts to get something to hold their own water. Roberts came back from a Minneapolis store with a five-gallon earthenware jug that cost him 30 cents.

Following that first game between the Wolverines and Golden Gophers — a 6-6 tie called with two minutes remaining due to chaos (gotta love it!) — Yost left the jug behind and it became a beloved “trophy” for Minnesota officials, who looked upon the tie as a momentous victory over a Michigan team that was on a 28-game winning streak.

Yost eventually asked for his jug back, but was told: “If you want it, you’ll have to win it.” Thus began this whole business of rivalry trophies. Yup, “The Little Brown Jug” … neither little, nor brown … but the granddaddy of them all.

The “point-a-minute” Wolverines of Yost’s day wouldn’t even recognize the Michigan team of the previous two weeks, which hasn’t visited the end zone. Four field goals were enough to beat Michigan State, 12-10, on Oct. 20, but three three-pointers didn’t come close to getting the job done at Nebraska in a 23-9 loss last Saturday.

Of course, not having Denard Robinson at quarterback was a huge problem in Lincoln. After Robinson re-aggravated a nerve injury that affects his throwing hand and arm, backup signalcaller Russell Bellomy struggled mightily. Bellomy attempted 16 passes and completed only three to teammates. Worse yet, three of his passes connected with Cornhuskers.

Minnesota broke a three-game losing streak last week, winning its first Big Ten game with a 44-28 decision over Purdue. A balanced Gopher offense finished with 458 total yards, committed zero turnovers and scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions.

If Robinson isn’t right, the Wolverines could lose their grip on Yost’s jug once again.

Opening point spread: Michigan by 12 1/2

The pick: Michigan 24-21

Mother’s health — and playing time — triggered Byron Cowart’s Aurbun departure

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Initially, there was no known reason for one of the top recruits in the Class of 2015 left his original college football home. Not long after, the window of insight was cracked a bit.

Tuesday, Byron Cowart was granted a release from his Auburn scholarship, one day after requesting it from the football program. In an interview with al.com, the defensive lineman revealed that his mother in Florida is going through an unspecified health situation and, as an only child, he wanted to be closer to her to help her through it.

Additionally, he acknowledged that, yes, his playing time, or lack thereof, played a role in his decision to leave The Plains.

“I’m happy with my decision and I know that this ain’t it for me,” Cowart told the website. “My main reason was my mother’s health is more important. Me being an only child, got to get back to home to her. Plus I already wasn’t playing enough and contributing to the team.”

In a separate interview with 247Sports.com, Cowart also acknowledged that he has twice previously considered leaving the Tigers, the last coming this past summer.

Cowart also indicated that, very soon, he will be starting up classes nearer his home in Seffner, Fla., presumably at a junior or community college. After that, he’ll decide where to continue his collegiate playing career at the FBS level.

“I’ll see what options I have and what the NCAA allows me to do,” the junior lineman told al.com. “This isn’t over for me and this definitely is not the end of my college career. … I can guarantee you football is not over for me. I still love the game, I love everything about football.”

A consensus five-star signee, Cowart was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 while 247Sports.com had Florida product as the No. 3 player overall on its composite board. In 26 career games, Cowart was credited with 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He was one of four Tigers arrested for marijuana possession in May of last year.

This past spring, Cowart was moved from end to tackle in an attempt to jumpstart his career. In three games at his new position this season, he had three tackles and half a tackle for loss in three games.

Div. II football player Robert Grays dies from neck injury sustained in game

Midwestern State athletics
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There’s horribly sad news to note today as Midwestern State University football player Robert Grays passed away Tuesday, the Division II school in Texas confirmed Wednesday morning.

Grays sustained a serious neck injury attempting to make a tackle during this past Saturday’s game against Texas A&M-Kingsville.  After initially being taken to a local hospital in Wichita Falls, he was life-flighted to a hospital in Houston, where he ultimately succumbed to his injuries.

“Robert touched many lives while attending the university, but perhaps he will be remembered best for his smile,” a statement from university president Suzanne Shipley said, in part. “He was an inspiration on and off the field to those around him, and he will be remembered with love and affection by his friends, classmates, coaches, and teammates.”

Grays was listed as a 5-8, 160-pound sophomore cornerback on the Mustangs’ official roster.

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to all of those impacted by Grays’ way-too-soon passing.

Wisconsin fans push two Provo bars to record-breaking financial weekend

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In a stunning development, it turns out that Wisconsinites (gasp!) like their beer.

Of course, it’s neither stunning nor a development that the state of Wisconsin tends to imbibe more than most others, as survey after survey after survey has suggested. This past weekend, a pair of Provo bars — in fact, the only two bar bars in the entire Mormon-heavy city — bore witness to the alcohol monolith that is the state in general and its college football fans in particular.

The Wisconsin Badgers invaded Provo Saturday for its Week 3 matchup with the BYU Cougars. With its fans in tow, it seemed as if the whole of the college football world was just daring Badger Nation to drink the city dry, a challenge from which they didn’t back down.

The damage? Both bars reported that they had their best financial weekends ever, thanks in very large part to the thirst of Badger Fan.

“Financially, it‘s the biggest day I’ve ever had here,” ABG’s Libation Emporium owner Gary Whitling told the Salt Lake Tribune, stating that he did triple the amount of business he would’ve normally done. For those curious, Wisconsinites mostly quenched their collective thirsts with Bud Light and Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey.

Despite the copious amount of imbibing, there were few if any incidents involving the out-of-towners, which serves s a significant testament to the fan base.

“It was a wonderful thing,” Whitling said. “The people from Wisconsin are fabulous. They‘re the nicest, funnest people we’ve ever had here.”

Shane Buechele taking majority of first-team reps at QB for Texas

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As expected, there will be no channeling of Lou Gehrig and Wally Pipp in Austin.  Probably.

Shane Buechele suffered an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder in Texas’ season-opening loss to Maryland. Ever since, Tom Herman has stated very firmly that Buechele would return to his starting job when healthy.

After watching Buechele take what the Austin American-Statesman‘s estimated to be 60 percent of the snaps with the first-team offense in practice Tuesday, the first-year UT head coach pronounced that there’s “[n]o Wally Pipp for the moment.”

Sam Ehlinger, who started both games since Buechele’s injury, took the rest of the snaps with the starting offense.

“Thought both of them looked good,” Herman said according to the American-Statesman. “I asked Shane towards the end of practice and he said, ‘Coach I feel good.’ So we’ll continue to monitor his progress. Last week, he was a bit sore each day after throwing. But with a couple of days off here, hopefully we can get that soreness out.”

Herman stopped short of naming Buechele the starter in their next game, against Iowa State, although the Longhorns have a bye this weekend before squaring off with the Cyclones on Thursday the 28th.

In his two starts, the true freshman Ehlinger completed 36-of-67 passes for 520 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Both of those picks came in UT’s near-upset of USC in Week 3.