Predictions 101 — Week 11

9 Comments

Last week, we went 5-2 straight, but only 2-5 versus “the number.” Not good.

So, we felt compelled to rush over to the boss’ office in Redmond, Wash., and say that we’re still 16-11-1 ahead of the bookmakers over the course of the last four weeks.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 8, thru Sat., Nov. 10)

1) No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama
Sat., Nov. 10 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

After seeing LSU’s previously limp offense move the football to the tune of 475 yards last week against their team (the most allowed by a Nick Saban squad since 2007), Crimson Tide supporters ought to be wary of an Aggie attack that’s averaging 44.7 points and 559.6 total yards per game.

Led by electrifying quarterback Johnny Manziel, the no-huddle Texas A&M offense took 97 snaps and gained 693 yards (361 rushing, 332 passing) in a 38-13 victory over Mississippi State last Saturday.

In a home game against Florida (admittedly way back on Sept. 8 in A&M’s opener), the Aggies scored 17 points in the first quarter and a half, but was shut out thereafter, and dropped a 20-17 decision.

More recently and against a similarly elite defense, Texas A&M scored 19 points against LSU in what ended up a five-point loss in College Station. If not for five turnovers, the tables easily could have been turned.

Such an occurrence would be highly unlikely in Tuscaloosa, where the home crowd will help replenish some of the emotional energy that was spent and remains in Death Valley, following that breathtaking 21-17 comeback victory.

This is certainly Alabama’s biggest hurdle on the way to the BCS title game until facing the SEC East champ in Atlanta on Dec. 1. Following this contest — the Tide clinches the SEC West with a win  — there’s only dates with Western Carolina, a 1-9 FCS team, and 2-7 Auburn remaining.

Alabama’s offensive line will be too much for A&M to overcome. The Aggies defensive front has little chance to slow down the Bama running game and when the back seven try to compensate for that, they’ll get burned by play-action from A.J. McCarron.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 16

The pick: Alabama 35-14

2) No. 13 Oregon State at No. 16 Stanford
Sat., Nov. 10 — 3 p.m. ET, FOX

The Cardinal defense is simply scary versus the run. Not only does Stanford lead the nation in rushing defense, yielding just 55.8 yards per game, it has pushed its last three opponents — California, Washington State and Colorado — backward for a total of minus-34 yards on the ground.

The Beavers aren’t much for that mode of travel anyway. With the emergence of former backup quarterback Cody Vaz and the production of the dynamic duo of wideouts Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton, Oregon State prefers to air it out.

Stanford also is currently being led by a former backup quarterback as freshman Kevin Hogan has unseated senior Josh Nunes. The difference is that his only previous experience came in last Saturday’s 48-0 victory at Colorado and that 18-of-23 performance, which produced 184 yards and two touchdowns, doesn’t really tell us much. The Buffaloes are a far cry from the Beavers (and anybody for that matter).

Hogan should be fine though. His first start will be at home on The Farm and he’ll be lining up in the backfield with senior running back Stepfan Taylor, who is capable of pounding out tough yards against an Oregon State defense that allows only 91.8 yards per game on the ground.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 5 1/2

The pick: Stanford 24-20

3) No. 22 Mississippi State at No. 9 LSU
Sat., Nov. 10 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both tanks figure to be a bit empty.

The Tigers will be thinking about their come-from-ahead loss to Alabama for a long time. Seemingly in control until the Tide rolled on its last drive, LSU gave away a 21-17 decision at home that nixed its SEC and BCS title dreams.

For the Bulldogs, they’ve known this week was coming ever since the schedule was posted. This tail end of a three-game gauntlet that has already seen Mississippi State drop games against Alabama (38-7) and Texas A&M (38-13) was always going to be a doozy.

Last year, the Tigers and Bulldogs engaged in one of those SEC field goal parades as LSU led 9-6 early in the fourth quarter. The Tigers ended up winning, 19-6, but that game was at Davis Wade Stadium.

This one is in Death Valley, where LSU hasn’t lost to Mississippi State since 1991. The nighttime atmosphere will suitably fill up the Tiger tanks.

Opening point spread: LSU by 17

The pick: LSU 26-14

4) No. 3 Kansas State at TCU
Sat., Nov. 10 — 7 p.m. ET, FOX

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

Since Bill Snyder isn’t likely to show his cards until game time, we can’t show ours either.

But, we are willing to say this: If Collin Klein doesn’t start and finish this road game, the Wildcats won’t be able to trade blows with a Horned Frog offense that is finding a rhythm at the right time. He is that important. Think Auburn without Cam Newton in 2010.

This could be one of the shakeups in the BCS that people are waiting for.

Opening point spread: none

The pick: none

5) Penn State at No. 18 Nebraska
Sat., Nov. 10 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

The leaders in the Leaders aren’t eligible for Indy. But the leaders in the Legends are poised to earn that trip to the Big Ten Championship Game.

Assuming they don’t flub up versus Minnesota and Iowa, the Cornhuskers just need to get past the visiting Nittany Lions to make that happen.

That seems to be in the cards, but let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly. Penn State has been a winning ticket in Vegas for most of the last two months.

Nebraska’s offense generates 487.3 yards per game (tops in the Big Ten), but it’s a bit scary for Cornhusker fans that quarterback Taylor Martinez has thrown seven interceptions in the last four games.

Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin hasn’t been intercepted four times yet this season and has thrown for 282 or more yards in each of his past four games, but the Huskers rank fifth nationally in pass defense and eighth in pass efficiency defense.

Opening point spread: Nebraska by 9

The pick: Nebraska 24-23

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Northwestern at Michigan
Sat., Nov. 10 — noon ET, ESPN

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

We’ll remind ourselves never again to roll with a squad relying on a converted freshman linebacker under center as we did last week with Maryland. Instead, this week in a critical Big Ten match-up, we’ll go with the Wildcats coming off a bye, and against a Wolverine team with a cloudy quarterback situation.

Denard Robinson missed last week’s 35-13 victory over Minnesota, due to a lingering ulnar nerve issue that affects his throwing hand. While some Wolverine fans are jumping on the Devin Gardner bandwagon after an efficient start against the lowly Gophers, the sometimes wideout is not in the same league as Robinson, who accounted for 450 total yards in Michigan’s win in Evanston last year.

No matter who takes the snaps for the Wolverines, the Wildcat offense led by running back Venric Mark, who leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (183.6 per game), will be more dependable. Michigan’s forte is stopping the pass.

The Wolverines are 16-0 under head coach Brady Hoke when scoring 20 or more points, but they’ll find it tough to reach that barrier, especially if they continue the charity that has led to a minus-6 turnover margin. In contrast, the Wildcats have four more takeaways than giveaways.

The double-digit price tag that comes with the Wolverines is more than curious.

Opening point spread: Michigan by 13

The pick: Northwestern 20-19

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 4 Notre Dame at Boston College
Sat., Nov. 10 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

With only two notches in the win column, Boston College’s bowl prospects are limited to the Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl, which is given by the Notre Dame Club of Boston to the winner of football games between the Fighting Irish and Eagles.

While the likelihood of BC capturing that bowl and the Ireland Trophy, which will be presented to the winners by the Notre Dame student government, is extremely remote, please recall that the Eagles have blown up Irish national title attempts twice before.

In 1993, Boston College toppled the top-ranked Domers, 41-39. And in 2002, another 8-0 Notre Dame squad fell victim to the Eagles.

This season, however, due in part to the fact that the Fighting Irish got a triple-overtime wake-up call from Pittsburgh last week, Notre Dame should have as little trouble with Boston College as Barack Obama had with Electoral College.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 20

The pick: Notre Dame 32-16

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
2 Comments

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.

Wisconsin breaking out the plaid in battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Minnesota

Getty Images
Leave a comment

No. 5 Wisconsin continues to play for an undefeated record and hold out hopes of making it into the College Football Playoff this week but the Badgers are also chasing something pretty important too when they take on Minnesota on Saturday: Paul Bunyan’s Axe. One of the best rivalry trophies in the sport has resided in Madison for the past 13 years but might carry on bigger implications given what’s at stake for the visitors when they arrive in Minneapolis, especially facing off against a Gophers team hoping to make it to a bowl game with another win.

Paul Chryst and company aren’t just treating this as any other Big Ten game however and teaming up with Under Armour to go well beyond ludicrous… and all the way to plaid. Well, “lumberjack plaid” to be precise, as the accents on their uniforms, gloves and shoes will all have a different spin on their normal colors.

While it’s a subtle difference, it is a pretty slick look for the Badgers as they take on their rivals. No word yet on what P.J. Fleck and the home team will break out in response but hopefully they rise to the occasion that the Axe commands.