Notre Dame USC

Predictions 101 — Week 13

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We were thankful to go 4-3 straight and versus “the number” last week.

Staying above water on a Saturday like that wasn’t easy. We didn’t have the two upsets that had everyone clamoring, but we did have a pair of others that got the job done.

So it’s on to rivalry week and what makes college football so special. Unlike the Yankees and Red Sox, who seemingly play each other 75 times a year, the Fighting Irish and Trojans get this chance to go at each other but once a year.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 22, thru Sat., Nov. 24)

1) No. 1 Notre Dame at USC
Sat., Nov. 24 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Look at these teams now. The Fighting Irish, who were unranked in the preseason, are undefeated and No. 1 in the land. Top-ranked in the preseason, the Trojans are currently unranked after losing three of their last four.

Adding injury to insult, USC is without quarterback Matt Barkley, who got K.O.’d in the final minutes of last week’s 38-28 loss to UCLA with an injury to his right shoulder.

Yup, everything seems to be moving in the direction of the Irish. When you have a linebacker being mentioned as a legit Heisman Trophy contender, that point can’t be denied.

Furthermore, the discrepancy in coaching ability is astounding.

Lane Kiffin is bringing about the fall of Troy in spectacular fashion on and off the field. His father, Monte, hasn’t got a clue in the world how to stop an opposing offense.

That certainly isn’t the case in South Bend. Brian Kelly’s team leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 10.1 points per game, and the Irish are adept at winning the close ones.

All that being said, this series is littered with surprising games involving spectacular scenarios and gallant heroes.

Could the next one be a confident youngster named Max Wittek?

It’s entirely possible.

Notre Dame has lived on the edge for much of the season. As Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State know all too well, undefeated seasons are elusive. And the pressure at the top of the BCS Standings this late in the season can be immense. Just ask the Wildcats.

The question here is if the thin Trojan offensive front can protect Wittek well enough for him to get the ball up in the air in the direction of Marqise Lee enough times. Or perhaps Wittek can rediscover somebody named Robert Woods, who Barkley lost touch with during the season.

Since “stuff” happens in this series, it’s tempting to call for the upset and more BCS chaos, especially since USC beat Notre Dame, 31-17, last season in South Bend. But what does that really mean anymore with Kiffin running the Trojan program into the ground? They beat Arizona, Oregon and UCLA last year, too.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 6

The pick: Notre Dame 28-20

2) No. 13 South Carolina at No. 12 Clemson
Sat., Nov. 24 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

After a year of verbal fisticuffs by their head coaches, the Gamecocks and Tigers finally get to settle the matter on the field.

We prefer the jabs that’ll be traded by South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw and Clemson signalcaller Tajh Boyd, than the silly haymaker quotes tossed around by Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney.

Shaw was outstanding in last year’s matchup, passing for 210 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a game-high 107 yards and a score.

Boyd appears to be gearing up for that sort of outing after falling flat last year in an 11-for-29 performance the yielded only 83 yards. Last week, he accounted for eight touchdowns (five through the air, three on the ground) in a 62-48 victory over North Carolina State, which got Clemson to 10 regular-season wins for the first time since 1981.

The Gamecocks need to come out on top against their bitter rivals to get their 10th victory and become the first team in school history post back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins.

The Tigers have won their past 13 games in Death Valley (yeah, Ballcoach, there are at least a couple of ‘em), so this call isn’t easy to make, but we can’t go against the Gamecock defense. It’ll come up with the stops when needed.

Opening point spread: Clemson by 4

The pick: South Carolina 26-24

3) Auburn at No. 2 Alabama
Sat., Nov. 24 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Well, well, well … what do we have here? Anyone willing to bet that Nick Saban’s squad won’t take full advantage of its second chance? We’re talking about the Crimson Tide’s next three games, not just this one.

It’s too bad this Iron Bowl is more like Tinfoil Bowl, considering the flimsy state of the Tiger program. Aside from that fact that it will feature direct national title implications for the fifth consecutive year, this incredibly nasty series has always been one of our favorites.

If Alabama weren’t playing its archrivals, there might be a chance that they’d have Georgia on their minds. Oh wait … they’d also have to be opposed by a halfway decent team.

There’s a stunning amount of lumber to chop at, but the Tigers really aren’t able to put up much resistance.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 34

The pick: Alabama 42-6

4) No. 6 Florida at No. 10 Florida State
Sat., Nov. 24 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

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

It seems like forever since this series featured teams ranked in the Top 10 and in the thick of the BCS mix.

Both squads can credit their excellent defenses for making it to this point. Only the Seminoles, however, have an offense right now. The Gators have scored a total of only 73 points in their last four games.

Florida has a murky quarterback situation this week and its passing offense ranks last in the SEC and 114th in the nation. The Gators won’t get it done on the ground versus FSU, which leads the nation in rushing defense.

The Seminoles will patiently build a lead through three quarters. Then, when something has to happen in the final frame, the inept Gator offense will discover that taking chances against a Jimbo Fisher defense can really get you in trouble.

Opening point spread: Florida State by 7

The pick: Florida State 34-13

5) No. 22 Oklahoma State at No. 14 Oklahoma
Sat., Nov. 24 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

In their last two games — against Baylor and West Virginia — the Sooners have yielded a total of 710 rushing yards. Oklahoma came out of both contests with the victory, but that’s simply a grotesque amount of yardage on the ground.

That’s not where you’d like to be when getting set to host an Oklahoma State team that’s fresh off a 59-21 dismantling of Texas Tech.

It doesn’t seem to matter who Mike Gundy puts behind center, so we’re tempted to ride with an upset here. But in the end, it’s too hard to go against Landry Jones in his last home game in a yard that the Cowboys haven’t won in since 2001.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 9

The pick: Oklahoma 38-34

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 20 Michigan at No. 4 Ohio State
Sat., Nov. 24 — noon ET, ABC

It’s rivalry week, so all of the above qualifies to be considered for this spot, but if given the choice, relevancy is more important than rivalry when it comes to playing ball in Week 13.

Officially, these two archrivals have combined to win 76 Big Ten championships and 18 national championships, so this matchup usually has massive postseason implications attached.

Such is not the case for the on-probation Buckeyes this year, although they do have an undefeated record (and a petition).

This is a rivalry game — if not THE rivalry game — so we won’t make too big a deal out of this, but the extra incentive to put the cherry at the top of a 12-0 season is powerful. All that “us against the world” stuff goes a long way when things are pretty much even.

But in truth, Ohio State has enough tangible things going for it in this contest. Home-field advantage and a healthy offensive backfield are two of the biggies.

Opening point spread: Ohio State by 4 1/2

The pick: Ohio State 31-20

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Kentucky at Tennessee
Sat., Nov. 24 — 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network

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

We’ll make no apologies for last week’s winning dog that came with a thin price. A win is a win.

This week, the ante is upped, riding a two-touchdown pup on Rocky Top, in a game matching a pair of teams still winless in SEC play.

Making the home team the favorite is understandable as they’ve been much more competitive within the league than the ‘Cats. But losing is losing and Tennessee’s psychology is fragile with the ousting of head coach Derek Dooley.

The Volunteers could rally with their leader gone, but why bother ruining the perfect conference slate they’ve put together?

Kentucky, which snapped a 26-game losing streak to Tennessee last year, might have a modicum of confidence after snapping its eight-game losing streak by trashing Samford last week.

Opening point spread: Tennessee by 14

The pick: Kentucky 38-34

New Years Six Set: Penn State vs. USC in Rose Bowl, Michigan vs. Florida State in Orange

KALAMAZOO, MI - NOVEMBER 19:  Head coach P.J. Fleck and the rest of the Western Michigan Broncos football team celebrates after beating the Buffalo Bulls 38-0 at Waldo Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
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The College Football Playoff selection committee still had some work to do before calling it a day. After setting the playoff field, the job of filling out the rest of the New Years Six bowl lineup was still at hand. This job may not have been as difficult as deciding on a fourth team in the playoff. We’ll have some good bowl matchups coming our way with Big Ten champion Penn State heading to the Rose Bowl. The Nittany Lions will face red-hot USC from the Pac-12 in Pasadena.

The Nittany Lions and Trojans are no strangers, having played nine games in the past, with eight meetings since 1982. USC owns a 5-4 advantage against Penn State, which includes a 2009 Rose Bowl victory by a final score of 38-24. This will be the third Rose Bowl meeting between the two programs, with USC also winning the 1923 Rose Bowl, 14-3. The two schools also faced off in the 1982 Fiesta Bowl (Penn State won 26-20) and have met in two of the old Kickoff Classics in New Jersey (splitting the games played in 1996 and 2000). Neither team has lost a game since flipping the calendar from September to October.

The Orange Bowl will have Michigan vs. Florida State in Miami, giving us a nice coaching matchup of Jim Harbaugh and Jimbo Fisher. Michigan took care of the Florida Gators last bowl season, and a second victory over a top program from the state of Florida would be a nice recruiting pitch if Michigan can pull it off. This will be the third meeting between the Wolverines and Seminoles all-time, with past meetings coming in 1986 and 1991. Both of those games were played in Ann arbor in September non-conference tilts, with the two schools splitting the series.

The Sugar Bowl appeared to be set as well, with Auburn and Oklahoma as the most likely participants under the Sugar Bowl contract with the SEC and Big 12. That became official with the bowl announcements this afternoon. Oklahoma earned a Sugar Bowl birth by virtue of being the Big 12 champion. Auburn received the invite as the highest-ranked  SEC team available, with SEC champion Alabama playing in the College Football Playoff.

Western Michigan expected to be heading to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion, and that is exactly where they are heading. The Broncos will meet Big Ten championship game runner-up Wisconsin, giving P.J. Fleck’s team a chance to go 3-0 against the Big Ten this season (Western Michigan owns wins against Northwestern and Illinois).

Coaches Poll: Alabama closes out regular season on top, PSU up to No. 5

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03: James Franklin, head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, and Malik Golden #6 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrate with the Big Ten Championship Trophy at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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Just as it did in the AP Top 25, the Alabama Crimson Tide started the season on top of the coaches poll and went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the coaches poll. The top four remained unchanged in the final coaches poll of the regular season, with Penn State moving up to No. 5 after winning the Big Ten championship.

Penn State moved up three spots in the coaches poll, jumping Michigan and Oklahoma in addition to Wisconsin. USC and Florida State also moved up two spots to round out the top 10 of the coaches poll. Colorado and Oklahoma State each fell out of the top 10 after losses this weekend.

The Temple Owls cracked the top 25 this week by appearing at No. 24 following an American Athletic Conference championship victory over Navy. No. 14 Western Michigan is the highest-ranked Group of Five school, with USF checking in at No. 22 (despite losing this season to Temple).

Here is the final coaches poll (the least important poll of them all) of the regular season, with Alabama receiving all 58 first-place votes.

  1. Alabama (58)
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Washington
  5. Penn State
  6. Michigan
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Wisconsin
  9. USC
  10. Florida State
  11. Colorado
  12. West Virginia
  13. Oklahoma State
  14. Western Michigan
  15. Louisville
  16. Stanford
  17. Auburn
  18. Florida
  19. Virginia Tech
  20. LSU
  21. Nebraska
  22. USF
  23. Utah
  24. Temple
  25. Iowa

College Football Playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington ready to chase championship

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  The Clemson Tigers with the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the first half during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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The College Football Playoff selection committee had to do a little bit more discussion to determine their top four this season than they may have had in the past two seasons, but a decision has been reached. Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington are this year’s selections for the College Football Playoff.

The College Football Playoff Four

No. 1 Alabama – The defending national champions are making their third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff. Alabama is the only program to appear in all three playoff tournaments under the new model.

No. 2 Clemson – The ACC champion Clemson Tigers are back in the playoff for a second straight season. Clemson fell in the championship game last year against Alabama. Will the experience of last season pay off for the Tigers in their second consecutive trip representing the ACC?

No. 3 Ohio State – The Buckeyes are looking for their second national championship under the College Football Playoff model. Ohio State becomes the first non-division and non-conference champion to play in the playoff.

No. 4 Washington – The Huskies are the only team making their first trip to the College Football Playoff, and they represent give the Pac-12 their second team in the playoff in three years. Oregon made the playoff in the first season two years ago. The Huskies enter the playoff with blowout wins against top 25 teams Washington State and Colorado.

The Matchups

Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington – A nice little Steve Sarkisian storyline is hidden here, but Chris Petersen and Nick Saban have been two terrific coaches over their careers with time to prepare for big games. Alabama is Atlanta is a tough draw for Washington, but then again anybody would have had a tough draw against the Crimson Tide.

Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State – A rematch of the Orange Bowl from a few years ago, with Clemson clipping Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes in the final season of the BCS formula. Ohio State loves making trips to the Fiesta Bowl, where they always seem to come out on top. Can they keep that going?

First Two Out

Penn State moved up to No. 5 in the playoff committee’s rankings, nudging just ahead of No. 6 Michigan. The Nittany Lions had a compelling argument for inclusion in the playoff but will take a trip to the Rose Bowl as a pretty nice consolation prize. Penn State will play either Colorado or USC. Michigan will now be heading to the Orange Bowl.

Big 12 misses out once again

The Big 12 has missed the College Football Playoff for a second time in three seasons. The four-team playoff model guarantees one power conference will be left out every year at a minimum, and the Big 12 once again took the short straw without a clear above-the-rest contender. Even a strong finish and run by the Oklahoma Sooners was not enough to overcome a tough September with losses to Houston and Ohio State. This should kick the tires on some heated discussions in Big 12 circles in the future.

The ACC, Big Ten and SEC have been represented in all three playoffs, with the Pac-12 earning two berths.

Report: Alabama QB Cooper Bateman plans to transfer

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 01:  Cooper Bateman #18 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks to pass against the Kentucky Wildcats at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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With Alabama seeing a rising star in freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, it should be no real shock Cooper Bateman would contemplate finding a new place to call home and throw the pigskin around next fall. According to a report this morning from AL.com, that is exactly what he will do.

A redshirt junior, Bateman ended the season sitting third on Alabama’s depth chart at quarterback despite starting off the spring as the most likely starter for the defending national champions. Not only did Bateman fall behind Hurts, but also Blake Barnett. Barnett opted to leave Alabama earlier this season and continues to search for a landing spot.

Al.com reports it is unknown or unconfirmed exactly when Bateman will formally leave the team. For now, there is uncertainty over whether or not Bateman will remain with the Tide during the upcoming playoff run. It is worth remembering players deciding to leave the Alabama program have been shown the door in not-so-flattering fashion in the past, so if Bateman is out then he may not be welcomed back.