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

Clemson transfer Scott Pagano sets his five official visits

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 01: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals looks to pass under pressure from Scott Pagano #56 of the Clemson Tigers during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Not long after Scott Pagano decided to transfer from Clemson, three dozen or so teams expressed interest in the defensive tackle.  A short time later, that list had been whittled down to seven by the lineman.

Just a couple of days later, Pagano has a list of teams he will officially visit.  From Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.com:

Pagano… said he will officially visit Notre Dame March 24, Oklahoma March 31 and Arkansas April 7.

Pagano has completed his official visit plan by lining up a trip to Texas for April 14 and Oregon April 21.

The graduate transfer also listed Cal and Nebraska as two of his seven finalists.  He could still “unofficially” visit those programs, or any others for that matter, even as they are not part of his current official visits schedule.

Pagano is expected to make a final decision that would allow him to enroll in his new school in May.

Coming out of high school in Hawaii as a four-star 2013 recruit, Pagano was rated as the No. 24 tackle in the country and the No. 2 player at any position in the state. Pagano started 13 games the past two seasons, four of which came in 2016.

Jim Harbaugh confirms TE Devin Asiasi will transfer from Michigan

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 29: Devin Asiasi #2 of the Michigan Wolverines tries to outrun the tackles of Riley Bullough #30 and Ed Davis #43 of the Michigan State Spartans during a first quarter run at Spartan Stadium on October 29, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The reports of a couple of weeks ago have indeed come to fruition.

Earlier this month, speculation had Devin Asiasi considering a transfer from Michigan back closer to his home on the West Coast. Tuesday night, the tight end’s head coach confirmed the transfer part of the equation.

“Yeah, he’s moving on, transferring,” Jim Harbaugh said according to mlive.com. “He leaves in great status. He was doing great in school, doing great in football, really popular and well-liked by his teammates.

“We wish him well.”

USC and UCLA are currently rumored to be among Asiasi’s potential landing spots. One of Asiasi’s former high school teammates, Boss Tagaloa, plays defensive tackle for the Bruins and the two players had talked of going to the same school when they were recruits. The Trojans were a finalist before Asiasi opted for the Wolverines as well.

As a 6-3, 287-pound true freshman last season, Asiasi played in all 13 games. He caught two passes for 18 yards and a touchdown.

A four-star recruit in last year’s class coming out of high school at Concord De La Salle High School, Asiasi was rated as the No. 3 tight end in the country and the No. 12 player at any position in the state of California. In addition to UM, USC and UCLA, Asiasi held offers from, among others, Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Auburn, Miami, Notre Dame, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington.

Recruit who left FSU track team signs with USF football

HENGELO, NETHERLANDS - MAY 22:  A detailed view of the adidas shoes with Pookie on the side, worn by Jeremy Wariner of the USA as he exits the starting blocks in the Mens 400m during the AA Drink FBK Games held at the FBK Stadium on May 22, 2016 in Hengelo, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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National Signing Day was three weeks ago, but the process of recruits putting their Herbie Hancocks on National Letters of Intent continues.

South Florida has announced that Charlie Strong has added Chauncy Smart to the Bulls’ 2017 recruiting class. Smart had originally signed with the Florida State track team last fall, but was given a release from that scholarship in order to pursue a career in college football.

Smart’s signing pushes Strong’s first class with the program, which is ranked 77th by 247Sports.com, to 19 members strong. 14 of those signees, including Smart, were rated as three-star recruits.

The new member of the Bulls will certainly bring some speed to the football table. From the release:

Smart was ranked No. 1 in Florida and No. 3 nationally at 100 meters among the class of 2017. He played football for three seasons at Auburndale Senior High School, seeing action at running back and cornerback, before taking off his senior year to focus on track. He clocked a school record of 10.3 in the 100 meters and won county, district and regional sprint titles. He also finished second in the 100 meters at the 2016 FHSAA 3A State Championships and third at the national Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle, Wash.

It’s unclear at which position, or even which side of the ball on which Smart will start.

Purdue interim HC-turned Cincinnati RBs coach-turned ECU WRs coach (?) charged with OVI

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - NOVEMBER 19: Interim coach Gerad Parker of the Purdue Boilermakers looks on against the Wisconsin Badgers in the second quarter of the game at Ross-Ade Stadium on November 19, 2016 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Yeah, this is as convoluted as the headline suggests.

Based on multiple reports, there is one thing that’s certain: Gerad Parker was arrested early Tuesday morning on a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.  According to the Purdue Exponent, “Parker was charged around 2 a.m. by West Lafayette police, after he was reportedly attending a going away party at a near-campus bar.”

From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

Parker reportedly was seen driving the wrong way on West Lafayette’s Pierce Street when he was stopped. Parker was taken to the Tippecanoe County Jail, where he was booked and held. The Exponent also reported that Parker was released later Tuesday without a bond, according to a jail spokesman.

Parker served as the interim head coach at Purdue this past season following the firing of Darrell Hazell in mid-October.  In late January, Cincinnati announced that Parker had been hired as Luke Fickell‘s running backs coach.

However, it’s being reported that Parker had, according to a school spokesperson, resigned his post at UC last week to take the wide receivers coach job at East Carolina, a move that came prior to his legal run-in and even as the coach’s personal Twitter account still has him listed as a Bearcats coach.  Parker would’ve/will replace Phil McGeoghan, who left ECU in late January for a job with the Buffalo Bills.

How this development will impact Parker’s reported employment with the Pirates is unclear.