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

WATCH: Ole Miss Baker Mayfields its flag on Mississippi State’s field

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Talk about adding insult to injury.

Heading into Week 13, three-loss Mississippi State, ranked 14th in the latest College Football Playoff rankings for whatever reason, was a 16-point favorite over Egg Bowl rival Ole Miss for Thursday night’s game in Starkville.  The loss of starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to a gruesome first-half injury all but sealed the Bulldogs’ fate; A.J. Brown‘s all-game production proved to be the dagger in sealing that fate, putting an exclamation point on the Rebels’ third win in the in-state rivalry the last four years.

As to how it all ties in to the lede?  The visiting Rebels decided to go all Baker Mayfield on Stark Vegas’ midfield after the win…

… not long after the same player who planted the flag hiked his leg like a dog, feigning urinating on the Davis Wade Stadium field.

There could very well be two different coaches in charge when the next Egg Bowl rolls around, but this will always be, regardless of who is on the sidelines, one of the most vitriolic rivalries in all of college sports.  Or sports, period.

A.J. Brown powers Ole Miss to Egg Bowl win over No. 15 Mississippi State

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No. 14 Mississippi State lost their quarterback, lost the game, lost the Egg Bowl trophy and lost a year’s worth of rivalry trash talk in one fell swoop on a chilly Thanksgiving evening at home. To add insult to injury, they lost all that at the hands of a Starkville native to boot as star receiver A.J. Brown powered Ole Miss to their sweetest victory of the year over their in-state rivals 31-28.

The Rebels needed just three plays and 39 seconds to open the scoring in what was perhaps the team’s best all-around game in several weeks, showing no signs of any tryptophan-induced sluggishness following a traditional turkey day meal. Brown finished the game with 167 yards receiving and a 77 yard touchdown to cap off a terrific return to his hometown in opposing colors, while tailback Jordan Wilkins also chipped in with another 110 yards and two scores on the ground to pace the offense.

The old Landshark defense also made an appearance, with the second worst team in all of FBS when it came to forcing turnovers managing to secure a whopping five turnovers and three sacks.

While the loss was undoubtedly disappointing for the Bulldogs, most of the team’s attention was on their star quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald. He entered the game on the verge of another 2,000 yard passing/1,000 yard rushing season but was tackled awkwardly on a three yard run early in the first quarter. Replays showed his ankle to be facing a much different direction than it should as part of a gruesome scene and the signal-caller was carted off to the team’s medical facilities shortly thereafter amid a raucous applause from fans on both sides.

Fitzgerald later returned to the sidelines to cheer on his teammates but it certainly appears that his promising season is over as Mississippi State turns their attention to a bowl game in the coming weeks.

Stepping in at quarterback was freshman Keytaon Thompson, who was much more of a threat with his legs than his arm until a few late drives. He finished the night with 195 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a team-high 121 yards rushing (with another score) in relief. Tailback Aeris Williams managed to rack up 82 yards and a score but faced a stacked line of scrimmage at every turn given the injury to his veteran teammate.

While the injury to Fitzgerald overshadowed the game, the backdrop of Ole Miss’ NCAA infractions case loomed large over the rivalry as much as the game itself. The two schools’ fan bases have been quite chippy and MSU linebacker Leo Lewis — a central figure in the case — was kept in check to the tune of two tackles and a half a sack as the Rebels didn’t attack him like some thought they would.

Perhaps more pressing to some Bulldogs fans is if that was the last Egg Bowl they would see with head coach Dan Mullen patrolling the sidelines. His name has been linked to openings at Florida, Tennessee, Nebraska and others in the past few weeks and there is a growing expectation that the most successful coach in school history could have just donned the maroon and white for the final time in a loss.

That’s of no concern across the way as interim coach Matt Luke did a good job rallying the team to their sixth win of the season. The Rebels are not bowl eligible as part of self-imposed sanctions but the satisfaction of beating their rivals probably takes the sting out of that fact just a little bit, especially with a Starkville native like Brown leading the way on Thursday night.

Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald suffers gruesome ankle injury to spoil first half of the Egg Bowl

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The Egg Bowl has returned to Thanksgiving but the game hasn’t gone quite as planned for No. 14 Mississippi State, as they trail Ole Miss 10-6 after a low-scoring first half of play thanks to a shocking injury that brought both sides of the heated rivalry to their feet in unison.

That came early in the first quarter when Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was tackled after a three-yard run, suffering a gruesome ankle injury in the process that saw his foot point in a direction it certainly wasn’t supposed to. He was put in an air cast and carted off the field to perform x-rays immediately afterward and needless to say will not return to the game.

The productive signal-caller was just 1-of-5 passing with an interception and 16 yards rushing when he went down with the injury. Fitzgerald was approaching the 2,000 yard passing and 1,000 yard rushing marks for the season heading into the game and received plenty of support from his fellow football players around the SEC and beyond after suffering such a horrific-looking injury that appears to knock him out for the rest of 2017.

Freshman Keytaon Thompson replaced Fitzgerald behind center and went 3-of-5 passing for 32 yards and an interception. He’s known for his running ability at this stage and did manage a team-high 65 yards on the ground, including a 32 yard scamper. Running back Aeris Williams was fairly limited facing a stacked box against a new quarterback and ran for 41 yards in the half as turnovers (three of them) really hampered MSU in the half.

With Ole Miss ineligible for postseason play even if they won on Thursday night, it was not at all surprising to see the Rebels play better than they have in a long time. The team needed just three plays and 39 seconds on their opening possession to find the end zone and were punching far above their weight defensively too. Wide receiver A.J. Brown was the big play threat once again for the offense, with five catches and 90 yards after just a half of play. In the process, he set a new school single-season record for receiving yards and joined kicker Greg Wunderlich (all-time school leader in FG’s) in the record books for the visitors as they look to  get a little bit of payback for last year’s 55-20 loss in Oxford.

The two programs have split the last six meetings in the hotly contested Egg Bowl rivalry and both appear locked into another close one after a half of play. It’s too bad that an injury to an all-SEC player had to spoil things early on but both the Bulldogs and the Rebels will have to put that behind them as they emerge from the locker room hoping to secure a win after years worth of bad blood.

Odell Beckham Jr. gifts LSU players recently unveiled custom shoes ahead of regular season finale

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LSU has produced plenty of NFL stars in recent years but few identify with the Tigers quite like New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr. does. The Baton Rouge native recently released his first “lifestyle” shoe with Nike last week and has been hitting the press circuit almost as hard as the rehab room as a result to showcase the new kicks.

Not one to forget where he went to school and blossomed into a first round pick, Beckham filmed a video for LSU’s football team this week and really gave the Tigers something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving by giving every player on the team a version of the shoe to wear when they’re suiting up in cleats.

The color isn’t quite a true match for LSU gold but it’s certainly pretty close and even comes with the longitude and latitude of Baton Rouge inscribed. You can probably bet that the team will be wearing them to Tiger Stadium prior to taking on Texas A&M on Saturday in the regular season finale for both sides.