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

Jerry Kill to make health-related decision on future as Rutgers’ OC

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Once again, Jerry Kill‘s health could force him to step away from the game.

Citing multiple unnamed sources, nj.com is reporting that the Rutgers’ offensive coordinator “is evaluating his options and is expected to make a health-related decision in the coming days” on his coaching future. The 56-year-old Kill was hospitalized in September of this year after suffering what was described as a minor seizure related to his ongoing battle with epilepsy, although he returned to his coaching duties shortly thereafter.

Ahead of an official decision, the website added, head coach Chris Ash has been informing prospects on the recruiting trail of the possibility that Kill might not be with the Scarlet Knights because of the issues that stretch back years.

In October of 2015, Kill was forced to step down as Minnesota’s head football coach because of health issues related to ongoing epileptic seizures.  Prior to joining the Rutgers staff, Kill spent the 2016 season in a non-coaching role at Kansas State.

In the year prior to Kill’s arrival, RU was 127th nationally in points per game (15.7) and 18th in total offense (283 yards per games).  In Kill’s first season in 2017, they were 121st in the former category (18 ppg) and 129th in the latter (263 ypg).

Nebraska’s Scott Frost confirms he will indeed coach UCF in bowl game

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After a little uncertainty, Scott Frost will indeed finish what he started this season.

After Frost led them to a perfect regular season and AAC championship, UCF earned the Group of Five’s bid to a New Year’s Six Bowl. In between the title win and bowl announcement, however, Frost was hired as the head coach at Nebraska. At the time, all of the sides involved indicated that Frost and his coaching staff, all of whom are following him to Lincoln, would be coaching the Knights in that bowl game.

As recently as late last week, however, there was some uncertainty as to whether Frost would actually lead UCF in the New Year’s Day Peach Bowl matchup with Auburn.  Tuesday, though, Frost was back at UCF with his undefeated Knights team and confirmed that he will coach them one last time, calling it “an honor” to do so.

“There’s some unusual circumstances but we’re gonna handle this as we would any bowl game of this type,” Frost said according to the Omaha World-Herald. “Our staff is completely committed and we’re going to do everything we can for this football team. …

“It’s an honor to be invited to this game. These players have poured their hearts out to accomplish a lot this year. There’s been a lot of circumstances swirling around this season and that’s been tough to navigate but they’ve been great with that. I’m grateful we have a chance to give them their best possible chance to put on the best show in Atlanta and win a football game.”

Frost had been on the road recruiting for his new team before returning to Orlando Monday night.  He and his assistants will remain there through Thursday as they continue preparing for the bowl game, then will continue recruiting duties for the Cornhuskers right up until the dead period starts Dec. 17 while continuing prep work for the Knights’ postseason.

Unlike in any other year, there’s an early signing period that starts on Dec. 20 and goes for 72 hours.  After that early signing period ends, there’ll be just a week or so left until Frost takes the field one last time as the Knights’ head coach.

Sonny Dykes to coach new team, SMU, in bowl game vs. old team, Louisiana Tech

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This is something you don’t see every day, in a couple of ways.

Monday night, SMU confirmed reports that had surfaced earlier in the day that Sonny Dykes has been named as the Mustangs’ new head football coach.  Dykes replaces Chad Morris, who left for the same job at Arkansas late last week.

At an introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon, Dykes’ new boss, athletic director Rick Hart, revealed that the new coach will get to work immediately as he will coach the Mustangs in their bowl game Dec. 20.  Dykes will immediately begin assembling his coaching staff to help in preparation for the Frisco Bowl.

And SMU’s opponent in the Frisco Bowl?  Louisiana Tech, which Dykes was the head coach of from 2010-12.  After going 22-15 in three years at Tech, he left for the same job at Cal in December of 2012.  He went 19-30 with the Bears before being fired after his fourth season in 2016.

Jack Cichy won’t seek sixth season, leaves Wisconsin for NFL

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One snakebitten Wisconsin linebacker has decided to call it a career, at least when it comes to the Badgers.

Jack Cichy announced in a Players’ Tribune article Tuesday that he will be leaving UW and making himself available for the 2018 NFL draft.  The fifth-year senior could’ve, because of injuries, applied for a sixth season of eligibility.

“I’m excited for what’s to come, but I can tell you that deciding to leave Madison was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Cichy wrote. “This place has become my home. …

“I’m a Badger for life.”

Projected to be one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten this season, Cichy was instead sidelined for the entire year after suffering a torn ACL during summer camp this past August.  Last season, Cichy started the first seven games for the Badgers before going down with a torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the remainder of the year.  Despite missing nearly half the season, he was still named honorable mention All-Big Ten.

All told, he started 11 games during his time in Madison, which began as a walk-on in 2013.