Predictions 101 — Week 11

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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

Iowa OL Sean Welsh opens up about depression battle in op-ed essay

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Iowa offensive lineman Sean Welsh has gone public about his ongoing battle with depression.

In a first person essay posted to Iowa’s official website, Welsh (No. 79, center) says symptoms emerged during his redshirt freshman season. He noticed himself eating less and spending more time isolated from other people, and felt his enthusiasm for school and football evaporate. He played through the depression, but felt his play suffer as the season progressed.

Football, the driving force for many years of my life, went from a source of purpose to a source of apathy. I started to feel a myriad of negative emotions: sadness, anxiety, dread and anger. They hit me like a bombardment from the moment I woke up to when I went back to bed.

It was every dimension of terrible. And I kept wondering what was wrong.

My family and I both needed some answers so I went to a therapist where we talked about identity and why I played football. It was like pulling teeth. Up to then, I felt that inner motives or emotions weren’t something to be shared – they showed your weaknesses. Plus, I didn’t have time for this stuff in the fall. I had a full class load and football on top of it. So I swept my depression under the rug and promised to revisit it after the season.  Which worked…for a while.

Welsh wrote that his symptoms peaked in the spring of 2015, when classes and tests slipped from his mind and, at one point, he spent three straight days holed up in his room. That experienced forced him to leave the team and return home for therapy. Welsh returned to the team that summer and remained in Iowa City to help the Hawkeyes to a 12-0 regular season, a Big Ten West championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl. He wrote that he opened up with his story to the rest of the team and feels enthusiastic for the upcoming 2017 campaign.

Welsh says he opened up to the public to help people understand that a high status in life or a long list of accomplishments doesn’t shield anyone from depression.

First off, depression doesn’t discriminate. You can have everything working in your favor – a strong upbringing, a loving family, a promising future – and depression can turn it upside down.

It can make your successes feel unimportant and your problems seem monumental. It made me feel empty, like I had nothing.

But it also galvanized me. It gave me a perspective that I never would have gained without it. Depression also taught me pure, visceral humility and that I need to be honest with myself and others about how I feel.  Without the support of my family, Coach Ferentz and his staff, my teammates and my friends – I’m not sure I would’ve gotten off the mat.

Read the full essay here.

Baylor DB Travon Blanchard arrested on family violence charges

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As Matt Rhule was winning Big 12 media days on Tuesday, one of his players was generating an all-too-familiar headline.

Bears defensive back Travon Blanchard was arrested Tuesday night on family violence charges. He was released later Tuesday night on $6,000 bond.

Blanchard was arrested in Waco, but the warrant for his arrest originated out of Fort Bend County, near Houston. Blanchard’s attorney Michelle Tuegel made a statement late Tuesday evening, saying, “we look forward to representing Travon and bringing out the truth in court.”

Blanchard was suspended from the program before Tuesday’s arrest, and Rhule said Tuesday (before news of the arrest broke) that his status remain unchanged.

“Travon Blanchard was suspended from all team activities immediately after learning of allegations made against him in February,” Baylor said in a statement. “That status has not changed and he has had no involvement with the program since that time. The university is aware of the arrest made today in connection with the previous allegations against Blanchard and will monitor the developments of this charge for any additional decision regarding his affiliation as a student-athlete.”

Blanchard appeared in 11 games last season, registering 73 tackles and nine TFLs.

Tommy Tuberville to join ESPN roster of college football analysts

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Tommy Tuberville is not going to be Alabama’s next governor, he’s not going to be mayor of Lubbock, and he’s not going to coach again — at least not in 2017. Absent of something to do, Tuberville has found himself a new job.

ESPN announced Wednesday Tuberville has joined its roster of college football analysts. He’ll work as a color commentator on Saturday games on ESPN or ABC. Which crew he’ll work on remains to be determined.

“Tommy has been a staple in college football for many years, having experienced nearly every situation as a head coach” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said in a statement. “We want him to bring that experience to our telecast, informing fans on the dynamics of a head coach’s thought process, not only in a given moment but leading up to and following that moment.”

Tuberville, 62, is out of coaching for the second time in his career after he stepped down at Cincinnati following a 4-8 campaign. He went 29-22 from 2013-16 at Cincinnati, 20-17 from 2010-12 at Texas Tech, 85-40 from 1999-08 at Auburn, and 25-20 from 1995-98 at Ole Miss.

ESPN released the following video to announce Tuberville’s hiring.

North Dakota State AD thinks Big Ten is rethinking stance against FCS opponents

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Remember not so long ago when the Big Ten decided that games against FCS opponents would no longer be permitted? That was nice while it lasted.

As reported by The Forum, North Dakota State athletics director Matt Larsen says he is optimistic a change in scheduling philosophy out of the Big Ten will reopen some doors for the Bison and other FCS programs moving forward.

“We sure hope so,” Larsen said. “Again, the best part for us is with the Big Ten, it’s the most geographical favorable footprint and they are the teams we would most prefer to play. There are a lot of Land Grant institutions and it gives our fan base more ability to travel.”

Larsen explains the Big Ten is considering amending its scheduling policy to accommodate Big Ten teams that must play five road games in the nine-game Big Ten schedule. Big Ten members who have four home games per season in conference play would, in theory, be allowed to schedule one FCS opponent to fill a scheduling vacancy.

Two summers ago, the Big Ten announced a change to its scheduling policy with the intent of making the conference’s overall schedule more attractive and competitive as the College Football Playoff was supposedly focusing on strength of schedule. In addition to expanding to a nine-game conference schedule, the Big Ten required members to schedule one game against another power conference opponent (which has already seen exemptions made for some) and no more games against FCS opponents would be allowed. Consider it a power play move by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to make for a more valuable television product and maybe a challenge to other conferences to do the same.

Of course, while other power conferences like the ACC and SEC have drafted some scheduling requirements to include one power conference opponent, every other power conference has left the door open to scheduling FCS opponents. Maybe Delany’s bluff was recognized around the country.

With a limited number of non-conference games to schedule and schedules being booked years in advance, filling out a 12-game schedule has come with some problems as conferences have expanded in numbers and some have expanded in the conference schedule. That leaves some schools and conferences in a bind because schools from Conference USA and the MAC can only play so many power conference opponents in their limited non-conference slots.

The Big Ten has not formally addressed this potential change in scheduling philosophy at this time, but keep an eye on it as the Big Ten kicks off its media days.