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

Texas Tech parts ways with offensive line coach Lee Hays

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders reacts on the sidelines during the first half of the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Kliff Kingsbury has parted ways with one longtime member of his coaching staff and said goodbye to another recent addition at the same time.

Texas Tech announced on Saturday afternoon that Lee Hays would not be returning to the staff in 2017, having previously served as the team’s offensive line coach the past four seasons. In addition, the program confirmed the departure of DeShaun Foster as running backs coach after just one year on the job.

“We appreciate all that Coach Foster and Coach Hays have done for our football program,” Kingsbury said in a release. “We wish them nothing but the best moving forward.”

The reason for Foster’s departure was made clear earlier in the day when it was announced he was taking the same position at his alma mater UCLA.

While many expected a new look to come to Kingsbury’s staff after a disappointing 5-7 season in 2016, the fact that the first two changes occurred on the offensive side of the ball is pretty notable for a team that struggled to stop just about anybody on the defensive end. Hays notably has been around the program since 2013 when the head coach returned to Lubbock and is the more surprising name not coming back to the staff for next year.

UCLA’s Jim Mora hires two more coaches, including former Bruins RB DeShaun Foster

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 12:  Head Coach Jim Mora of the UCLA Bruins looks on during the first half of a game against the Oregon State Beavers  at The Rose Bowl on November 12, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Mora’s offensive overhaul appears to be complete.

UCLA announced a pair of hires on Saturday to the team’s coaching staff, starting with Hank Fraley as the Bruins’ new offensive line coach and the return of former tailback DeShaun Foster as the new running backs coach.

“DeShaun is a Bruin through and through, which makes this such an exciting addition to our staff,” said Mora in a statement. “On top of being a tremendous alum, consummate professional, trusted voice and valued mentor, he is an exceptional football coach whose pedigree and knowledge of the game command respect.  We’re thrilled to welcome Deshaun back home where he belongs.”

Foster spent last season in the same position at Texas Tech but was in Westwood from 2013-2015 serving a variety of roles with the program. He is a familiar face to many in the powder blues, ranking third on the school’s all-time rushing list. He also had a lengthy stint in the NFL, most notable with the Carolina Panthers.

Fraley also has plenty of NFL experience, having spent 11 years in the league as a player before joining the coaching ranks. He recently served three seasons as the Minnesota Vikings assistant offensive line coach.

The duo replace Kennedy Polamalu and Adrian Klemm, both of whom were dismissed in the past month. They’ll join new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch at UCLA, who was recently brought on board himself.

Michigan graduate transfer QB Shane Morris announces move to Central Michigan

ANN ARBOR, MI - APRIL 04: Shane Morris #7 of the Michigan Wolverines throws a pass during the Michigan Football Spring Game on April 4, 2015 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Central Michigan has their replacement for star quarterback Cooper Rush and didn’t have to go far to get him.

Former Michigan signal-caller and recent graduate transfer Shane Morris announced Saturday on Twitter that he would be making the move up the road to play for the Chippewas in 2017.

Morris was a former four-star recruit coming out of high school in the state but never quite lived up to those expectations with the Wolverines. He did start two games for the team over the course of his career but was third on the depth chart in 2016 behind Wilton Speight and John O’Korn.

As a result, he wraps up his time in Ann Arbor by completing 47 of 92 passes for 434 yards, with no touchdowns and five interceptions. He’ll be eligible right away for Central Michigan, which is a great landing spot for an incoming quarterback with almost all of the offensive starters returning from last season’s team.

Tennessee goes in-house for new offensive coordinator

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Interim Head coach Larry Scott of the Miami Hurricanes look on at the start of the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on November 21, 2015 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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With Mike DeBord off to IndianaButch Jones is staying in-house for his next offensive coordinator.

Tennessee announced Friday it has promoted Larry Scott to be its new offensive coordinator. Scott joined the staff before last season as tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. He spent the previous three seasons coaching tight ends at Miami, and racked up a 4-2 mark as the ‘Canes interim head coach after Al Golden‘s mid-season 2015 firing.

To replace DeBord in the quarterbacks room, Tennessee has hired long-time offensive coordinator Mike Canales as quarterbacks coach, and handed defensive backs coach Charlton Warren special teams coordinator duties to free Scott to focus on the offense.

Canales has previously served as offensive coordinator at Snow College, South Florida, Arizona and North Texas. He deposited two separate stints as the interim head coach at North Texas, and spent the ’16 campaign as assistant head coach, running backs and tight ends coach at Utah State.

“We spoke to a lot of very quality candidates,” Jones said in a statement. “Our goal was to gather as much information as possible in a timely manner but also go through a detailed process, which we did. We feel strongly about our offensive staff and that Larry Scott is the best fit moving forward to lead the unit.

“Larry played an important role in the success we had offensively last year and was heavily involved in all aspects of our game plan, both during the week and on game day. We felt it was vital to maintain our continuity on offense and keep building on what we have established the past four seasons.

“I’m also really excited about adding Mike Canales to our staff. Mike has recruited, coached and developed numerous quarterbacks at the collegiate level. He will be of great benefit to our players and staff with his extensive experience and knowledge of the quarterback position.”

The Vols finished the 2016 season ranked 24th nationally in both yards per play and scoring