Phil Knight

Predictions 101 — Week 12


Last week, we went 5-2 straight (you can probably guess what one of the losses was) and 3-2-1 versus “the number.”

This week’s slate is probably the worst we’ve ever examined this close to the end of a season. But what are you going to do? The SEC’s scheduling practices and the Big Ten’s irrelevance are what they are.

Here we go.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 15, thru Sat., Nov. 17)

1) No. 14 Stanford at No. 1 Oregon
Sat., Nov. 17 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

We’ve got total respect for what the Cardinal have done, proving that their relevancy wasn’t tied to Andrew Luck. In fact, it wasn’t even tied to Josh Nunes. With redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan looking like he’s the real deal, Stanford will easily continue to be a primetime player in the Pac-12 North.

The only problem with that is the presence of Oregon in the division. The Cardinal are just not geared to deal with the Ducks … as if any team really is.

Since Luck led a 51-42 victory over Oregon in 2009, the Cardinal have lost their last two games to the Ducks by a total of 44 points.

Taking into account the known factors, there isn’t any indication that the results will be different this time. Chip Kelly’s bunch will pull away in the second half to win this showdown for the North title.

Despite holding an advantage over Oregon in several departments, Stanford doesn’t have the ability to adjust on the fly to accentuate its strengths and minimize those of its opponents. That, of course, is the domain of the Ducks and the secret to their success, particularly on offense.

If limited to playing the game within the box and at a normal pace, the Cardinal, who lead the nation in run defense (58.6 yards per game), sacks (4.2) and tackles for loss (9.1), would win. Oregon, however, doesn’t let you breathe and expertly gets the ball out into space where it’s hard to tackle lightning bolts.

Stanford has the ability to control the pace and shorten the game when it has the ball, utilizing sledgehammer running back Stepfan Taylor and the athleticism of Hogan, but getting something out of every drive is a requirement if you’re going to upset the Ducks. We don’t see them putting together a perfect performance at the fortress that is Auzten Stadium.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 24

The pick: Oregon 45-27

2) No. 2 Kansas State at Baylor
Sat., Nov. 17 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

No team in the country allows more yards per game than the Bears … 519.8 to be exact. Of course, yards don’t determine who wins. Points do.

Baylor is really generous with those, as well, allowing 39.4 per game. Only five of the 120 FBS teams are worse in that department. Unfortunately for the Bears, they aren’t playing any of those schools.

They’re hosting Kansas State, which leads the Big 12 in scoring defense (17.7) and is in position to play for the BCS title if it can avoid banana peels and/or magazine cover jinxes.

The difference defensively is the key as both teams average more than 42 points per game.

The Bears hung tough on the road last week, dropping a 42-34 decision at Oklahoma. Some of that had to do with winning the takeaway battle, 2-0.

That won’t happen versus the Wildcats, who lead the nation in turnover margin with a sparkling +20.

Opening point spread: Kansas State by 10

The pick: Kansas State 49-31

3) Wake Forest at No. 3 Notre Dame
Sat., Nov. 17 — 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

The Demon Deacons have the Fighting Irish right where they want them.

Slow down … we aren’t saying Wake Forest is gonna pull the massive upset. But if you are hoping for such a thing, South Bend would be the location for it.

Notre Dame hasn’t been particularly impressive in defending its home field this season. The Irish needed three overtimes to beat Pittsburgh, edged BYU by three points, got the calls to squeak past Stanford in OT, held off Michigan 13-6 and defeated Purdue by three.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though. Notre Dame is attempting to go undefeated at home for the first time in 14 years. Until now, playing in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus wasn’t what it used to be.

But Deacon fans can’t like their chances against an Irish defense that hasn’t allowed an offensive touchdown in five games this season.

In last week’s 37-6 loss at North Carolina State, Wake Forest needed standout wideout Michael Campanaro to THROW a touchdown pass to avoid a shutout.

Brian Kelly will turn up the heat and do his best to build a case for the BCS title game, but there are the usual limitations.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 22

The pick: Notre Dame 29-10

4) No. 22 Rutgers at Cincinnati
Sat., Nov. 17 — Noon ET, Big East Network

For whatever it’s worth, this game will go a long way toward determining who wins the Big East and gets to spend New Year’s Day losing to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Last year, the Scarlet Knights broke a five-game losing streak to the Bearcats. Running back Jawan Jamison rushed for 200 yards and a pair of scores in that 20-3 victory in Piscataway.

Jamison is a bit of a question mark in this one as he was knocked out of last week’s 28-7 win over Army, but did return to the game and finished with 90 rushing yards and threw a halfback pass for a touchdown.

In any case, Rutgers’ advantage in this game is on the defensive side. The Knights are allowing only 13.4 points and 309.4 yards per game.

Bearcat quarterback Brendon Kay, who made his first career start last week at Temple, will have trouble. We smell turnovers.

Opening point spread: Cincinnati by 6 1/2

The pick: Rutgers 24-23

5) Mississippi at No. 8 LSU
Sat., Nov. 17 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Could we possibly get out of here without an SEC game? Nope. And in terms of which one, we didn’t have much choice.

Even more incredible than seeing Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina all listed in a row from Nos. 4 through 9 in the BCS Standings was the fact that five of their opponents this week are Western Carolina, Georgia Southern, Jacksonville State, Sam Houston State and Wofford. And then you have Mississippi’s trip to LSU, of course.

The Tigers did allow Mississippi State to pass for 304 yards in last Saturday’s 37-17 victory in Baton Rouge. But when the Bulldogs were forced to become one dimensional late in the game, the LSU pass rush was devastating.

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace can sling the ball around the yard, but we wonder how the Rebels will keep ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo from crashing down on him if they fall behind early.

In a way, Ole Miss is OK with being on the road. In contrast to last year’s 52-3 loss to LSU at home, the Rebels hung tough in Death Valley in 2010 (coming from ahead to lose, 43-36) and won there in 2008 (31-13).

Opening point spread: LSU by 20

The pick: LSU 35-19


Ohio State at Wisconsin
Sat., Nov. 17 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

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

We can add Michigan’s miraculous “Hail Mary” pass, which led to an overtime defeat for last week’s underdog, to the pair of one-point losses suffered earlier in the season thanks to placekicking miscues. That being said, we’ve nabbed some outright victories in between and have been within the “number” in most instances.

There’s not much margin for that to happen this week, as we get a field goal while backing the undefeated Buckeyes in their Big Ten Leaders Division match-up with the Badgers.

This setup is reminiscent of last year’s edition of P101’s current “Rivalry Game of the Week” (see below), when UCLA limped into the Pac-12 title game after getting embarrassed by on-probation USC, 50-0. For Wisconsin, it’s the beneficiary of having already clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game despite two losses, thanks to a pair of teams in the NCAA’s naughty corner.

Urban Meyer deserves loads of praise for what he’s accomplished in Columbus with The Vest’s players and the mess he left behind. The potent backfield combo of quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde have accounted for 41 touchdowns and their playmaking will prove to be the difference against a stout Wisconsin stop unit.

The four Badger wins that have them in line for a Big Ten title three-peat have come against squads that are a combined 5-19 in conference play. With starting quarterback Joel Stave out for the season, Curt Phillips filled in last week going 4-for-7 for 41 yards against Indiana.

Wisconsin was able to light up the Hoosiers for 62 points by rushing 64 times for 564 yards with senior running back Montee Ball finding the end zone three times.

That kind of one-dimensional attack won’t work against a Buckeye defense ranked 16th in the nation, allowing 107.9 yards per game on the ground.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 1

The pick: Ohio State 23-13


No. 21 USC at No. 17 UCLA
Sat., Nov. 17 — 3:05 p.m. ET, FOX

The winner of this matchup gets the Victory Bell. Not the bootleg ones that go to the North Carolina-Duke or Miami (Ohio)-Cincinnati winners, we’re talking THE Victory Bell, a 295-pound bell from a Southern Pacific freight locomotive.

A couple years after the bell was given to UCLA by its alumni association in 1939, USC students stole it … and even used the Bruins’ own truck to do it!

The bell was then hidden in various parts of the Southland, spurring a rash of pranks on both sides of town, which caused USC president Dr. Rufus B. von KleinSmid to threaten to cancel the football game between the archrivals.

Following that warning, the student body presidents of both schools met at the “Tommy Trojan” statue and signed an agreement that made the bell a rivalry trophy.

For the first time in a while, more than just the Victory Bell is on the line for both teams. Each has the opportunity to lock up the Pac-12 South with a win. It could be said that each squad is trying to repeat. USC “won” the division on the field last season, but UCLA took the probation-saddled Trojans’ place and embarrassed itself in Eugene at the inaugural Pac-12 title game.

UCLA has enjoyed possession of the Victory Bell for only a single year since 1999. In the last five meetings, all Trojan victories, the Bruins have been eviscerated by an aggregate score of 158-35, including last year’s 50-0 waste of time.

Despite all this, UCLA and its supporters are feeling frisky. But, really, how much has changed?

Ask yourself this question: “Would you be looking at this game differently if UCLA had played Stanford yet or had Oregon on its schedule?”

That’s what we thought.

Opening point spread: USC by 3

The pick: USC 34-27

Notre Dame AD: Brian Kelly ‘will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year’

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 01:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and his team wait to head on to the field for the start of the game against the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium on October 1, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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For those looking — or hoping — for Brian Kelly to be on the coaching hot seat, it appears you’ll have to wait another year or more.

Kelly’s Notre Dame squad, which began 2016 ranked 10th in the Associated Press Top 25, has had its fair share of issues on the field, stumbling to a 2-5 start that’s the program’s worst since 2007.  There have also been issues off the field related to those on-field struggles, with Kelly firing his defensive coordinator and throwing his players under the bus for good measure.  Former Irish football players have sounded off and taken aim as well.

Add it all up, and it had some thinking that Kelly might not be long for South Bend.  At least publicly, Kelly’s boss is emphatically putting the kibosh on such talk.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told earlier today. “I can tell you I continue to have complete confidence in Brian. … I get to see the program day in and day out and I continue to have great confidence in Brian and confidence in our future as a program.”

Kelly is in the midst of his seventh season at the school.  In the previous six, he’d led the Irish to a 55-23 mark.  Included in that total are a pair of 10-plus win seasons as well as an appearance in the BCS title game following the 2012 regular season.

In late January of this year, Kelly and the university reached an agreement on a six-year contract extension that runs through the 2021 season.

When did Nick Saban realize he missed college football? His ‘first press conference’ in Miami

Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban watches play   against the   Carolina Panthers   September 25, 2005 in Miami.  The Dolphins defeated the Panthers 27  to 24.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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Yeah, he’s playing to, using the vernacular of the political season, his very fervent base, but it’s still not the least bit surprising.

When Nick Saban left LSU for the job with the Miami Dolphins in 2004, there were more than a couple of observers who were surprised the coach would leave the college game to get back into the NFL. When Saban, after infamously denying it, left the Dolphins to take the job at Alabama after just two seasons, there were more than a couple of observers who were not surprised the coach made such a decision.

Why? Because Saban just seemed like a coach who could relate better to — some would say control more — college players than those in the NFL. With Verne Lundquist serving as a guest on Saban’s weekly radio show Thursday night, the retiring college football broadcaster asked the Alabama head coach, writes, “when in his Miami Dolphins tenure he realized he missed coaching college football?”

Saban’s answer was illuminating…

“Well, the day I landed in Miami and went to the first press conference,” Saban said. “I started to realize the difference between the NFL then and what the NFL was like before when I was in it with Bill Belichick from 1991-94 in Cleveland, before we had free agency, before the media had infiltrated sorta everything that was happening. I guess right then.”

… but not as illuminating as the coach, once again, addressing his version of the Drew Brees situation as it relates to the level control, or lack thereof, in the NFL compared to what he has in Tuscaloosa.

“When [the Brees situation] happened, I said I can’t control my destiny here,” Saban said. “I can’t control my destiny here. There’s too many things that, no matter how hard I work or no matter what I do, I can control my destiny better in college by working hard and making good choices and decisions and creating a good program for players. I think that happening made me lean back to coming back to college.”

Yes, Saban may have, in the eyes of some, unfinished business in the NFL. At 64 years old — he’ll be 65 Oct. 31 — don’t expect him, though, to at any point in the near or distant future to rectify that “hole” in his coaching résumé.

Long-time starting guard ruled out by Tar Heels for rest of season

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 17:  Quinshad Davis #14 and Caleb Peterson #70 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrate after a touchdown against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their game at Kenan Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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As it turns out, the short-term hit North Carolina took to its offensive line last weekend will turn into a long-turn one.

Caleb Peterson (pictured, being uplifted) suffered a back injury earlier this month that kept him out of both the Virginia Tech (Oct. 8) and Miami (Oct. 15) games. Thursday night, the school announced that the offensive lineman will undergo surgery Friday at the Carrell Clinic in Dallas.

As a result, the senior guard will miss the remainder of the 2016 season. Peterson used his redshirt in 2012 and isn’t eligible for any type of waiver, meaning the 6-5, 300-pound lineman has likely seen his collegiate playing career come to an end.

In his Tar Heel career, Peterson had started a total of 42 games. He had a streak of 30 straight starts snapped when he missed the Tech game.

Following the 2015 season, Peterson was named second-team All-ACC by the league’s coaches.

In addition to Peterson, the football program also announced that Jonathan Smith underwent season-ending surgery Thursday to repair a fracture in his right foot. The freshman linebacker initially suffered the injury during practice in the week leading up to the game against the Hokies.

A three-star member of UNC’s 2016 recruiting class, Smith was rated as the No. 21 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 25 player at any position in the state of North Carolina. He had appeared in six games as a true freshman this season, and was credited with one tackle.

Beavers dealing with injury issues in their backfield

Oregon State running back Ryan Nall, right, looks back at California cornerback Darius Allensworth, left, during an 80-yard touchdown run in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
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It’s looking more and more likely that Oregon State will be at less than full strength in their backfield when they line up against No. 5 Washington Saturday evening.

Leading rusher Ryan Nall aggravated a foot injury in last Saturday’s loss after just one carry and is officially listed as doubtful for the game against the Huskies. Nall did not practice Thursday and was still wearing a boot to protect the injured foot.

Additionally, Nall’s backup, Artavis Pierce, is dealing with a stinger and did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media, The Oregonian reported.

Nall currently leads the Beavers with 464 yards and six rushing touchdowns. He’s also third on the team with 13 receptions.

Pierce is second behind Nall with 262 yards.

If neither Nall nor Pierce are available, the bulk of the running game load would be shouldered by Tim Cook. The senior has carried the ball nine times this season for 22 yards.