Predictions 101 — Week 14

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Last week, we went 5-2 straight and versus “the number,” nailing the three biggies at the top of the list.

Let’s see how we do with the regular season’s final set, which is dripping with BCS implications.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 29, thru Sat., Dec. 1)

1) No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia in SEC title game at Atlanta
Sat., Dec. 1 — 4 p.m. ET, CBS

This SEC championship game doubles as a national semifinal, but in our mind it’s also for all the marbles. Either the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs will earn the honor of winning the SEC’s seventh consecutive BCS championship with a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.

While quick to jump to the conclusion above, we’re slow to adopt the prevailing opinion that Alabama will beat Georgia.

If we had the choice, we’d take the Bulldog defense over the Tide’s. Georgia linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are as good as it gets at their respective positions, and they’re just the beginning.

Despite the rock steady quarterbacking of junior A.J. McCarron, the Alabama offense will experience its share of three-and-outs.

When the Bulldogs have the football, the same can be said. The big question revolves around how Georgia triggerman Aaron Murray rises to the occasion.

Against the two toughest teams he’s played this season, Murray struggled. In the Dawgs’ lone loss, a 35-7 debacle at South Carolina on Oct. 6, he was just 11-of-31 for 109 yards with an interception. Although Georgia beat Florida, 17-9, three weeks later to earn this trip to Atlanta, Murray wasn’t the reason. In fact, the Bulldogs won in spite of the three INTs he threw during a 12-of-25 performance that yielded 150 yards and a touchdown pass.

Murray hasn’t been picked off in any of the four games since the Cocktail Party, but the fact that four of his seven interceptions this season came against the only two teams that are even remotely capable of playing defense at Alabama’s level is worrisome.

Murray, who also hasn’t been able to get Georgia over the hump in its past two bowl games, is trying something new this week. He imposed his own personal media blackout, presumably to restrict questions about not being a big-game quarterback from affecting his performance.

We don’t look at that as a good sign and it tipped the scales.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 7 1/2

The pick: Alabama 23-20

2) No. 14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten title game at Indianapolis
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX

The Badgers haven’t had the season they expected, losing five regular-season games and going .500 in league play. But they aren’t about to conclude that this just isn’t their year and roll over for the Cornhuskers.

It’s quite the opposite actually. This is Wisconsin’s second chance, a holiday gift like no other.

If they play their cards right, the Badgers are potentially 120 minutes of football away from being crowned Rose Bowl champions. (No Oregon in Pasadena … just Stanford or UCLA!)

Remember that Wisconsin gave Nebraska all it could handle in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Badgers appeared headed to victory after taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, but the Huskers scored 20 answered points on four consecutive drives.

Wisconsin had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but tailback Montee Ball fumbled on a fourth-and-one, allowing the Cornhuskers to run out the clock.

Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. But in the end, his team netted only 56 rushing yards.

Nebraska had far less difficulty, rumbling for 259 yards on the ground.

That’ll even out a bit in the rematch and the game will go down to the wire. Something tells us the Badgers will go for a two-point conversion or take some chances in the fourth quarter to avoid overtime, which has been a 0-3 proposition for them this season.

Opening point spread: Nebraska by 2 1/2

The pick: Nebraska 24-23

3) No. 17 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford in Pac-12 title game
Fri., Nov. 30 — 8 p.m. ET, FOX

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

After winning Round 1, which determined that there would be a rematch with Oregon watching on TV, Cardinal head coach David Shaw said: “I expect them to give us everything. I expect this to be a very tough, physical game. It’s going to be 10 times harder. We’re going to get their best shot.”

We share that belief. After exchanging opening drive touchdowns and holding Stanford to a trio of three-and-outs, UCLA head coach Jim Mora clearly called off the dogs.

Following the 35-17 Cardinal victory, an ornery L.A Times columnist asked Mora if he treated the contest like an NFL preseason charade in order to avoid playing Oregon and hide game plan elements from Stanford. The exchange was supremely entertaining.

After the first-quarter stalemate, who could blame Mora for going vanilla against a team that’s clearly a far easier matchup than the Ducks? Why not avoid Eugene as if the plague had broken out there? Palo Alto is beautiful this time of year.

Check how many times Mora had Jonathan Franklin run the ball on first down. The predictable play calling was designed to finish the game, not win it.

Round 2 will be a back-and-forth affair that will surprise many. In the end, Mora’s gamesmanship will come up short in a tight contest. A final clock-killing drive, showing what Stanford is made of, will seal it.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 10

The pick: Stanford 34-27

4) No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech in ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both teams are busy licking their wounds on the way to this ACC Championship Game.

The Seminoles saw their faint BCS title hope go up in flames in a 37-26 loss to Florida last Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets were brushed aside, 42-10, by Georgia on its way toward a possible BCS title game appearance.

The difference in this contest is that Florida State’s defense has the ability to bounce back from its leaky outing. Georgia Tech’s problems on that side of the ball figure to persist.

That’s not to say that the Seminoles will shut down the Yellow Jacket option attack, after allowing the Gators to roam for 240 yards on the ground, but even with the loss of defensive end Tank Carradine to a knee injury, they clearly have the athletes to keep it in check.

Look for E.J. Manuel and the rest of the FSU offense to spring a bunch of big plays to easily claim a spot in the Orange Bowl (against … see below).

Opening point spread: Florida State by 13

The pick: Florida State 37-20

5) Louisville at Rutgers
Thurs., Nov. 29 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cardinals are ticketed for the ACC and the Scarlet Knights are bound for the Big Ten, but we’re still talking about the Big East here, so this predicting business is unquestionably an effort in futility.

Nevertheless, there’s important stuff going on in Piscataway. If the Scarlet Knights win, they play in their first BCS game. If the Cardinals are victorious, they’ll likely get the Orange Bowl nod.

Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play with a broken left wrist. The Louisville running game is equally banged up with running back Senorise Perry on the shelf (ACL). In its last two games, Louisville has rushed for a total of only 75 yards.

All of that doesn’t add up to success versus Rutgers, which is allowing only 13.7 points per game.

Opening point spread: Rutgers by 2

The pick: Rutgers 26-17

Shea Patterson talks transfer from Ole Miss to Michigan, confident he’ll be eligible to play in 2018

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One of the bigger player personnel moves of the 2018 offseason has already gone down in the midst of the 2017 bowl season, with Shea Patterson announcing earlier this week that he would be transferring to Michigan from Ole Miss.  The touted quarterback’s decision was seemingly triggered by not only Hugh Freeze‘s firing as head coach, but an additional one-year bowl ban tagged on to the Rebels football program.

In his first interview since the move, Patterson, who was born in Toledo and lived in the city until he was 11, told Kyle Rowland of the Toledo Blade that (surprise!!!) the off-field rancor in Oxford indeed led him to Ann Arbor.

“I’m really not one to jump ship on anything,” the sophomore signal-caller told the Blade. “But I’m really big on setting goals and achieving them. I did that throughout high school. One of the main goals was to win a national championship. At Ole Miss, I didn’t have an opportunity to do that. Things didn’t shake out the way I planned — coach got fired, the two-year bowl ban.

“I couldn’t look back on it after college and say I never got an opportunity to play for something like that.”

As part of the latest bowl ban, any Ole Miss player entering his final season of eligibility is free to transfer to another program without being forced to sit out a year.  While players like Patterson saw Ole Miss roll back the restrictions placed by the university on a transfer destination, it has been thought that those Rebel players with more than a year of eligibility remaining would still have to sit out the NCAA-mandated transfer year.

Patterson is confident, though, that, because of his former school’s issues, he will receive a waiver from The Association that would allow him to play immediately in 2018 at his new school.

“From what I’m hearing, I’m pretty sure that I will win that and be able to play next year,” Patterson said according to the newspaper.

A consensus five-star 2016 recruit, Patterson was rated by 247Sports.com as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 4 player overall on its composite board.  After starting the last three games of his true freshman season, Patterson started the first seven games of 2017 before going down with a season-ending knee injury.

If Patterson does get the waiver, he’d compete with redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, a four-star 2016 signee who took over the starting job in late October, and true freshman Dylan McCaffrey, a four-star 2017 signee who took a redshirt this season, for the starting job.

Status of Wyoming QB Josh Allen for bowl game up in the air

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Josh Allen won’t be Fournetting or McCaffreying his team’s bowl game this season, but it’s still undetermined whether or not he’ll be able to play in it.

Allen has been dealing with an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder that kept him out of Wyoming’s last two games of the regular season. While he’s been practicing with his teammates in preparation for the Dec. 22 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl matchup with Central Michigan, his status for the postseason game is up in the air.

It appears though, that, one way or another, a decision on the quarterback’s availability will be made over the next several days.

“I’m still getting better day by day,” Allen said according to the Laramie Boomerang. “It is still not where I think it needs to be or want it to be, but things are progressively getting better. Throwing is becoming a lot easier, more effortless. I am on the right track, but we will be needing to know an answer (if I’m playing) in the coming days.

“I will be in the training room 24/7, trying to get back on the field, trust me.”

It’s believed that the junior is playing his final season with the Cowboys as he’s projected to be one of the first three or four quarterbacks taken in the 2018 NFL draft if he leaves early. In fact, he was introduced with Wyoming’s seniors on Senior Day late in the regular season, a clear sign that he’s all but out the door.

Players such as Allen have until mid-January to officially declare for the April draft.

Last season, Allen completed exactly 56 percent of his passes for 3,203 yards, 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Through 10 games this season, and with less of a supporting cast around him, the 6-5, 240-pound redshirt junior has hit on 56.2 percent of his attempts for 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. His yards per attempt have gone down from 8.59 in 2016 to 6.61 in 2017, although he’s thrown a pick in every 42 attempts this season compared to one every 25 last season.

James Madison signs head coach Mike Houston to 10-year extension

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This won’t stop bigger programs from sniffing around its head coach, but James Madison is doing its best to show its commitment to the man.

The FCS powerhouse announced Tuesday that it has reached an agreement on a 10-year contract extension with Mike Houston. The new deal would technically keep Houston with the Dukes through the 2027 season.

Houston’s old contract had him signed through the 2021 season.

“Mike Houston has proven to be the perfect fit as football coach at James Madison University, and we are thrilled that the Houston family has found JMU to be its perfect home,” JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said in a statement. “While Mike’s accomplishments on the field speak loudly, his most valuable role is guiding the student-athletes in our program, teaching them about leadership and about life, helping them to succeed in the classroom and building a culture of genuine care and compassion for each other. We look forward to many more victories on and off the field with Mike Houston at James Madison.”

Houston is in the midst of his second season as the sideline boss of the football program. In those two years, the Dukes have gone 27-1, with the lone loss coming to North Carolina in the third game of the 2016 season. He is 26-0 vs. FCS teams, capping his first season with a national championship by beating five-time defending champion North Dakota State.

JMU has also won 25 straight games, the second-longest winning streak in FCS history, behind only NDSU’s 33-game streak from 2012 through 2014.

Houston has the Dukes zeroing in on back-to-back titles, with top-seed JMU facing fifth-seed South Dakota State Saturday afternoon in one of the two FCS semifinal matchups.

“James Madison is a special place. Amanda, our boys and I want to be here and consider this home,” Houston said. “JMU approached me in the second half of the regular season to discuss an extended contract. During negotiations, there was significant interest from multiple FBS programs. Throughout the process, JMU was proactive in wanting to make a long-term commitment while ensuring that our staff could remain intact. I’ve turned down opportunities at the FBS level, and I did it because I believe in James Madison University. I believe in the leadership of Jeff Bourne, Senior Vice President Charlie King and President Jonathan Alger. I believe in their vision for our university and our athletics programs. I also believe in our student-athletes, everyone in athletics who supports us and the passionate fan base that cheers for us. I am committed to ensuring that the JMU football program is one that is a reflection of our outstanding institution. I’m committed to staying here because JMU is different.”

Georgia’s Latavious Brini arrested on felony forgery charge

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For the third time since winning the SEC championship nearly two weeks ago, a member of the Georgia football program has found himself on the wrong side of the law.

The Macon Telegraph and Rivals.com are both reporting Tuesday night that Latavious Brini has been arrested on a first-degree felony charge of forgery.  Brini was arrested shortly after six local time earlier today and released from the Athens-Clarke County (Ga.) Jail a couple of hours later after posting a $5,700 bond.

No details of what led to the arrest and charge have been released.

Brini was a three-star member of UGA’s 2017 recruiting class.  The linebacker hasn’t played a down for the Bulldogs as a true freshman.

Earlier this month, Natrez Patrick and Jayson Stanley were arrested on marijuana-related charges.