Johnny Manziel

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

Reports: Florida hires Mississippi State’s Scott Stricklin as new athletic director

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2016, file photo, Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin congratulates Dominique Dillingham following the team's NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Starkville, Miss. A person familiar with the search says Florida has hired Stricklin as its new athletic director. Stricklin replaces Jeremy Foley, one of the most tenured sports executives in the country. Foley is retiring Saturday after 40 years with the Gators, including the last 25 in charge of Florida's athletic program. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because Florida has an announcement and introductory news conference planned for Tuesday, Sept. 27. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle, File)
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One athletic director is making a rare intra-conference move to take the same position at a rival school.

As first reported by USA Today, Mississippi State’s Scott Stricklin is set to be announced as the new athletic director at Florida on Tuesday.

The move ends a lengthy search by the Gators to replace longtime AD Jeremy Foley, who officially retires at the end of the week but is remaining at the school to help fundraise.

The Florida athletic director’s job is considered to be one of the most plum in all of college sports. That may be the biggest reason why Stricklin, who graduated from Mississippi State in 1992, would make the rare move to leave his alma mater for another position in the SEC. He has been in charge of the Bulldogs since 2010 and also made stops at Tulane, Baylor and Kentucky before coming back to Starkville.

Stricklin is well-regarded in most circles for his moves to upgrade MSU facilities during his time as athletic director. The Gators recently announced plans for over $100 million in capital improvements so you can bet that the school’s new athletic director will hit the ground running starting on Saturday.

FSU’s Jimbo Fisher, Houston’s Tom Herman both deny being contacted by LSU

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles looks on against the South Florida Bulls in the first half at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Les Miles has barely been out of a job for 24 hours and already the rumors have begun connecting other head coaches to his old job at LSU.

Not surprisingly, one of the most prominent names being mentioned is former Tigers assistant and current Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.

“I’m not talking about LSU. No I haven’t [had contact] and I’m not talking about it,” Fisher told reporters on Monday. “We’re talking about North Carolina.”

The 12th-ranked Seminoles play the Tar Heels on Saturday.

Fisher spent seven years at LSU and was the offensive coordinator for Nick Saban during the 2003 national championship season in Baton Rouge. He recently won a national championship at Florida State in 2013 and has 71-15 career record.  Many have labeled Fisher one of the Tigers’ top targets in their coaching search but he is far from the only prominent name that has been mentioned recently for the job.

Houston coach Tom Herman, who has seemingly heard his name come up for every major coaching opening the past 18 months, also denied being contacted by the school. A report had surfaced shortly after Miles was fired saying that said school representatives had already made contact with the Cougars coach.

“I can say unequivocally nobody has contacted me,” Herman said after practice, according to the Houston Chronicle. “I can spend my time getting upset and going on radio shows and tweeting things out and all that stuff, but at the end of the day it’s not going to stop. I just let them do and say whatever they want to say.”

Stanford head coach David Shaw also issued a strong denial about him potentially leaving the Farm for LSU as well.

With such a big time job opening up this early in the year, you can expect plenty of these types of reports linking somebody with LSU and then a prompt denial from said coach. It seems like it’s going to be a long season for the Tigers on the field and an even longer for those following the team’s coaching search.

It’s probably safe to say the only person who won’t deny any interest in the job or being contacted about the opening is LSU’s current interim coach Ed Orgeron, who was introduced at a press conference Monday afternoon.

AFCA and NFL agree on expanded access for scouting college underclassmen

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 28: Scouts look on as a player runs the 40-yard dash during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The NFL and most NCAA schools have been trying for years to whittle away at the high number of players who declare early for the NFL Draft and then go undrafted.

To that end, the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and the NFL announced Monday that the two entities have reached an agreement on new guidelines involving scouting underclassmen. This will eventually allow for more information to be shared with both prospects and their potential employers at the pro level.

Beginning this upcoming February, each FBS school can designate up to five underclassmen who will be eligible for additional scouting (some schools may be allowed to designate more). Those players will then be allowed to be tested and interviewed by scouts at a school’s pro day prior to the 2017 NFL Draft.

While it is not quite an “underclassmen combine” that some have advanced, it essentially means talented soon-to-be redshirt sophomores and juniors who are not eligible to declare for the draft will be able to perform at their school’s pro days for scouts.

“The more information our college advisory committee has, the better evaluations they can make for student-athletes who are at a critical juncture of their lives,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said in the statement. “While there is no question that obtaining a college degree is a transformative experience for so many people in society and a goal to which we encourage everyone to aspire to, for those talented few individuals that have the ability to succeed in the NFL prior to exhausting their college football eligibility, this new agreement will ensure they have better information with which to make their decision. We appreciate the efforts of our partners at the AFCA in making this new agreement a reality.”

The change is one many top coaches have been clamoring for over the years, from Ohio State’s Urban Meyer to Alabama’s Nick Saban. It should lead to more information for those players who may be thinking about leaving school before their senior season and allow the underclass advisory committee to get a better idea of where they might get drafted.

It may not be a perfect solution for some but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Pro Football Talk also has a little more on this subject right here.

Rutgers loses play-making Janarion Grant to season-ending ankle injury

PISCATAWAY, NJ - SEPTEMBER 17:  Janarion Grant #1 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights carries the ball in the first half against the New Mexico Lobos at High Point Solutions Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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If there was one player Rutgers may not have been able to afford to lose this season, it was Janarion Grant. Unfortunately for Rutgers, Grant has indeed ben lost for the season due to an ankle injury suffered Saturday in a home loss against Iowa.

Grant injured his right ankle on Saturday and returned to the Rutgers sideline on crutches later in the game. That was an ominous sign itself, but Rutgers head coach Chris Ash confirmed the unfortunate news on Monday when addressing the media. Ash did not reveal the specific details of Grant’s injury, but confirming he will miss the rest of the season is a pretty tough pill to swallow for the entire Rutgers program.

Rutgers will look to petition for an extra year of eligibility for Grant.

But wait, there’s more injury news for Rutgers. Ash also announced defensive end Quanzell Lambert will be out for the remainder of the 2016 season due to a knee injury.