Nick Saban

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

Former Texas OL Octavious Bishop joins ‘Horns staff in off-the-field role

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Former Texas offensive lineman Octavious Bishop has rejoined the program as the Longhorns’ director of student leadership and personal development. The position is a new one, created specifically for Bishop.

Texas’s release announcing his hire says Bishop will work with Charlie Strong and the UT football staff to “provide strategy and implementation of programs to support student-athlete development. Among the program’s goals and objectives will be personal growth, character enhancement, leadership assessment and development, life skills and career preparation.”

“I had an unbelievable conversation with Octavious about what we were looking for in this position and knew right away that he was the man for the job,” Strong said in a statement. “He’s an engaging and energetic person who has a ton of experience working with personal development and has gained so much knowledge in handling all aspects of student-athletes’ lives. I just really loved his passion and all of the ideas he was bringing to the table. On top of that, he’s a Longhorn letterman who overcame a lot of obstacles in his own life. I’m so excited to have him joining our staff.”

Bishop is a former three-year starter at left tackle for the Longhorns, best known as one of the road graders for Ricky Williams‘s NCAA record-breaking 1998 Heisman Trophy campaign. Bishop played professionally for the Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons as well as in NFL Europe and the XFL before returning to Texas to finish his social work degree in 2001. He’s since earned his Master’s degree in social work from UT and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Walden University in Minnesota. He has work experience as a social worker and counselor, dealing with marriage, family and addiction counseling and working with students with mental health needs.

“Many of the student-athletes who will attend The University of Texas come from backgrounds similar to my own,” Bishop said. “I have a unique perspective, as a former player and student, that many of them will share. The relationships I’ve established outside of football have played a profound role in my professional and personal development.”

SEC to discuss expanding restriction on transfers

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A year ago, the SEC adopted a rule banning its member schools from accepting transfers who were disciplined at their previous institution for sexual assault or other forms of sexual violence. The rule came about after Alabama accepted a transfer from Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, whom Mark Richt dismissed after he was arrested for domestic violence, only to see him again be arrested for domestic violence in Tuscaloosa. Chalk that entire episode up as just another way Nick Saban has changed the way the SEC conducts business.

Now the league is considering expanding the ban to other forms of misconduct in advance of its annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla.

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, a student-athlete working group has recommended expanding the rule to “bar transfers who were convicted of, pled guilty or no contest to a serious misconduct felony.”

“The rule that was passed at the last spring meeting was a first step,” SEC associate commissioner for legal affairs and compliance William King told the paper. “I think commissioner (Greg) Sankey made that clear from the beginning that this was a first step and that the conference would revisit the rule.”

The Big 12 and Pac-12 adopted similar rules to mimic the SEC, and it’s likely this policy will only see stronger teeth considering it was his practice of accepting players with violent pasts from other schools that led to Art Briles‘ eventual ouster.

The rule removes the incentive for coaches who fear that dismissing troubled players will only see them on the opposite sideline a season or two later.

SEC schools are expected to conduct background inquiries into all transfers, and a loophole exists for schools to appeal to the conference’s executive committee. Many believe the rule banning transfers will eventually apply to incoming freshmen as well, though that does not appear to be on the table for this year.

Baylor QB Seth Russell responds to Briles firing in Instagram post

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Baylor quarterback Seth Russell has been on a mission trip with other Bears athletes to Brazil, and he returns from his South American voyage to a much different program than he left behind.

Head coach Art Briles is gone. So, too, are two of Baylor’s top incoming freshmen. More coaches and players may follow.

As QB1, Russell had to address the goings on in Waco one way or another, and did so Saturday in an Instagram post that speaks to the Bears’ crisis without really speaking to it while quoting — who else? — Robert Griffin III.

What an amazing experience these past few weeks have been. I, and 33 other Baylor student-athletes, have spent the last two weeks in Brazil sharing God’s love and pouring into children from Maceio and Rio de Janeiro. Through our sports, we were able to share our faith in hopes of changing lives, not just others, but our own as well. I can’t thank all who helped make this mission trip possible enough. I am forever grateful for my time spent growing with others, and ultimately growing with the Lord.

As we head back to Waco, I can’t help but think of all that has changed since we first left for South America. Although I was in a different hemisphere, the heartache was still immensely present. However, being in the environment I was, the Lord was easily able to remind me of how great He is.
We are broken. We are hurting.
But at the end of the day, we are His. With that gift alone, there is no reason to not overcome through these hard times.

My prayers for Baylor University are that we never forget that we need God as desperately on our best days as we do on our worst. We will overcome. We will become stronger. We will be who God has allowed us to be.

Baylor we are and Baylor we’ll always be, but it’s up to us to define what that means-RGIII

What an amazing experience these past few weeks have been. I, and 33 other Baylor student-athletes, have spent the last two weeks in Brazil sharing God’s love and pouring into children from Maceio and Rio de Janeiro. Through our sports, we were able to share our faith in hopes of changing lives, not just others, but our own as well. I can’t thank all who helped make this mission trip possible enough. I am forever grateful for my time spent growing with others, and ultimately growing with the Lord. As we head back to Waco, I can’t help but think of all that has changed since we first left for South America. Although I was in a different hemisphere, the heartache was still immensely present. However, being in the environment I was, the Lord was easily able to remind me of how great He is. We are broken. We are hurting. But at the end of the day, we are His. With that gift alone, there is no reason to not overcome through these hard times. My prayers for Baylor University are that we never forget that we need God as desperately on our best days as we do on our worst. We will overcome. We will become stronger. We will be who God has allowed us to be. Baylor we are and Baylor we’ll always be, but it’s up to us to define what that means-RGIII

A photo posted by Seth Russell (@sethrussell17) on May 28, 2016 at 7:16am PDT

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Russell started Baylor’s first seven games — all wins — before a broken neck bone suffered in a collision against Iowa State ended his season. He completed 119-of-200 passes for 2,104 yards (10.5 yards per attempt) with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing 49 times for 402 yards and six scores.

Houston Nutt steps out of the shadows following Ole Miss Notice of Allegations

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Ole Miss dropped its long-awaited Notice of Allegations, which revealed the spin of the majority of the 28 allegations being against non-football sports and former head coach Houston Nutt‘s staff to be technically true but also just that — spin.

Of the 13 allegations against the Rebels’ football program, nine came against current head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff. However, the majority of those were relatively minor in nature (free rental cars, comped hotel rooms), and the largest did come against two former assistants. Former defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and former operations staffer David Saunders were accused of setting up a fraudulent ACT system to get players into school.

“We usually know about who is going to make it in by May,” Nutt said of the players whom those ACTs got into school. “We were gonna place them in junior college.”

Still, Nutt told Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports he felt a twinge of validation from Friday’s release.

“It’s the most frustrating thing there is,” Nutt said, “to be on the sidelines and hear your name keep getting mentioned and mentioned. It’s hurtful. It makes you mad.

“I don’t have a major violation in 30 years of coaching.”

Nutt won 75 games at Arkansas and led Ole Miss to a 19-8 mark and back-to-back Cotton Bowl victories in his first two seasons in Oxford — read: with Ed Orgeron‘s players — and fell to 6-18 (1-15 SEC) in his final two seasons. That, plus the sting of these violations falling on his record, is likely to continue to keep Nutt out of coaching — at least at the highest levels of FBS.

Still, he remains optimistic.

“I’m going on five years without a team,” he said. “There were a few opportunities I went after. I’d love to coach again. I feel like I’ve got 10 more seasons in me.”