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

Report: Pac-12 reaches deal with Fox Sports Australia

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 02:  Larry Scott, CEO of the WTA speaks to the media during the draw for the Sony Ericsson WTA Championships at the Pearl conference centre on Novemeber 2, 2008 in Doha, Qatar. The Championships willl take place in Doha from November 4-9, 2008.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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What, you thought Cal was going all the way to Sydney for…. fun? The student-athlete experience?

No, there was always a pot of gold at the end of that transpacific rainbow.

According to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News, a good of a source as there is for all things Pac-12, the league has reached a content agreement with Fox Sports Australia to show Pac-12 football and basketball.

Wilner reports that Fox Sports Australia will show 21 men’s basketball games and 13 football contests, with the possibility of other Pac-12 teams heading Down Under in the near future.

Globalization has been a key charge of Larry Scott‘s commissionership. Washington opened the 2015-16 college basketball season by “hosting” Texas in Shanghai last November and, of course, there was Cal’s game with Hawaii Friday night.

North Dakota State starts 5-time FCS title defense with OT defeat of Charleston Southern

AMES, IA - AUGUST 30: North Dakota Bison fans cheer on their team in the second half of play against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium on August 30, 2014 in Ames, Iowa. North Dakota State defeated Iowa State 34-14. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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Charleston Southern came at the five-time kings, and they missed.

Playing in the third annual FCS Kickoff — the official opening to college football season whenever there’s not a game in Australia — the No. 6 ranked Buccanneers had a chance to knock off the top-ranked and five-time defending FCS national champions at their raucous FargoDome home yesterday. After tying the game at 17-17 with 2:59 remaining in regulation, Charleston Southern allowed North Dakota State to march to their 35-yard line when Troy McGowens stepped in front of an Eason Stick and raced the ball to the Bison’s 40-yard line.

With just 18 ticks remaining, Charleston Southern pushed the ball to the Bison 33, setting Jacob Smoak up for a game-winning 51-yard field goal. It sailed wide left.

And, as they’ve done so many other times this decade, the Bison capitalized when winning time presented itself.

North Dakota State (1-0) opened overtime by scoring on their very first play, a 25-yard King Frazier scoring dash, then limited Charleston Southern (0-1) to just one yard on its possession, forcing Kyle Copeland into an incomplete pass on 4th-and-9 from the 24.

The 24-17 overtime win pushed North Dakota State to an unthinkable 72-5 since the beginning of the 2011 season, including a 43-3 mark in the FargoDome.

Overall, North Dakota State held a 194-94 yardage edge through the air, 230-169 on the ground and a 21-11 edge in first downs. Stick completed 17-of-27 throws for 194 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while Copeland hit only 8-of-20 passes for 94 yards with a pick. Frazier led the Bison with 11 carries for 79 yards and a score, while Mike Holloway led all rushers for the Bucs with 10 carries for 126 yards and two touchdowns.

Each team will have a chance to prove its mettle on the FBS level next month. North Dakota State — 4-0 against FBS competition during its run, all on the road (obviously), with three wins of those wins by multiple touchdowns — visits defending Big Ten West champion Iowa on Sept. 17. Charleston Southern visits No. 4 Florida State on Sept. 10.

Tennessee to wear helmet decals in remembrance of Pat Summitt

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 7:  A Tennessee Volunteer holds up his helmet in the team huddle before the NCAA football game against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders at Neyland Stadium on September 7, 2002 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee won 26-3. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Tennessee will wear helmet decals to honor the memory of legendary Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt throughout this season, the Vols have announced.

The decal, according to the release, will be a capital “P” inside a circle, which is based on Summitt’s signature.

Summitt passed away June 28 at the age of 64 due to a lengthy bout with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. She served as the Lady Vols’ head coach for 38 seasons, compiling an NCAA basketball record 1,098 wins, eight national championships and 16 SEC titles before her retirement in 2012. She was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.

“As a coach, I stand in awe of Pat and what she accomplished on and off the court,” Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said at the time of Summitt’s passing. “She is someone I admired when I decided I wanted to get into coaching. You study all the great coaches, the traits that made them successful, and you try to incorporate those into your own program and teams.  She demanded excellence and her teams played to her personality.

“It was about more than basketball for her, it was about life. She wanted every player that left the program to be prepared for the next stage of their life. Every player received a degree, and that was as important to her as any win on the court. She wouldn’t settle for anything but the best effort on the court and in the classroom.”

Tennessee opens its season Thursday against Appalachian State in Knoxville.

Florida State strength coach Vic Viloria arrested on DUI charge

RALEIGH, NC - SEPTEMBER 27: Florida State Seminoles players take the field for their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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In what has become Discipline Saturday across college football, Florida State has seen one of its coaches entangled with law enforcement. Head football strength coach Vic Viloria was arrested Friday night for driving under the influence as well as property damage. He was released just after noon local time from a Leon County jail, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

According to the report, police found Viloria asleep at the wheel with his truck in drive and his foot on the break pedal. He had already launched the vehicle up an embankment, missing a utility pole and colliding with an electronic cross-walk sign.

From the paper:

He told police he was coming from work where he drank multiple “big” alcoholic beverages in his office on FSU’s campus. He also acknowledged that he should not have been driving.

A passerby had earlier alerted police to Viloria sitting at the stoplight at Lakeshore Drive and Monroe Street where he sat through several green lights without moving, court records say.

He told police he ended up on the off-ramp as he tried to turn around to head to his Golden Eagle home. Officers noted his watery eyes, slurred speech and a moderate smell of alcohol on his breath.

And the Tallahassee police force’s incident report:

The Seminoles have released the following statement:

“We are aware of the reported incident and are in the process of gathering more information. The issue falls under the human resources policies for university employees, which restricts further comment at this time.”

Viloria is one of Jimbo Fisher‘s top lieutenants, having served as his head strength coach for all seven of Fisher’s year as the Seminoles’ as head coach. His official Florida State bio lists Viloria as “a major part of Florida State’s resurgence.”

“The foundation for the unprecedented success is forged by Viloria,” it reads. “The Seminoles have made noticeable physical gains across the board and significantly cut back on injuries as Viloria and his staff remain on the cutting edge of technology. Under Viloria, FSU became the first college football program to utilize advanced GPS technology to measure energy exertion and regulate rest and physical action.”

Viloria is the second college football coach to be arrested for DUI this month. Nebraska wide receivers coach Keith Williams received his third arrest for such charge, and was suspended without pay for the remainder of the month, while also being required to miss the Huskers’ first four games of the season.