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

Western Kentucky gets Brian Brohm’s coaching career started

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Brian Brohm runs in a touchdown during second half CFL football action in against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina, Saskatchewan on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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Louisville legend Brian Brohm is heading back to Kentucky. Western Kentucky has added the former Cardinals quarterback to the coaching staff, the school announced Monday. Brohm will take on the role of quarterbacks coach with the Hilltoppers, his first coaching job. Of course, WKU head coach Jeff Brohm is the older brother to the new assistant coach. WKU Director of Football Operations Greg Brohm is also one of Brian Brohm’s older brothers.

Brian Brohm is now one of three former college quarterbacks on the staff for Western Kentucky. Both Brohm brothers on the coaching staff have quarterback experience, as does Bryan Ellis, who is being moved from coaching running backs to wide receivers.

Brohm was a former Conference USA Player of the Year in 2005 and Orange Bowl MVP in 2007 with Louisville. He later was a second-round NFL draft pick of the Green Bay Packers but the Packers had Aaron Rodger in place, so Brohm ended up on the practice squad. The Buffalo Bills signed Brohm in 2009 and he entered free agency at the end of the season. That took Brohm to the one-year experiment that was the United Football League with the Las Vegas Locomotives. Brohm then spent the past three seasons in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Before getting to Louisville, Brohm was a three-time state champion at Trinity High School in Louisville, earning MVP honors in all three games. It goes without saying Brohm is a big name in the state of Louisville.

Perhaps returning home to his roots will be refreshing.

Steve Spurrier takes on role of ambassador with Gamecocks

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier gestures during a news conference Friday, Dec. 26, 2014, in Shreveport, La. The Gamecocks face Miami in the Independence Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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You just knew it was going to be tough for Steve Spurrier to step away entirely from college football. Though he may no longer be calling the shots on the sideline with his signature visor, Spurrier will continue to be a face of South Carolina as he takes on an ambassador role.

Spurrier will be a special assistant for South Carolina president Harris Pastides and athletic director Ray Tanner, but his responsibilities in assisting the school’s leaders will extend far beyond simply getting coffee and making a quick run to Staples for office supplies. Spurrier will be used as a resource for his opinions when needed and he will continue to spread the word about South Carolina at any opportunity that presents itself. If that means playing a round of golf with some potential big donors, you know Spurrier will oblige to fulfill his duties.

Spurrier retired from coaching in early October 2015. Spurrier’s contract had a clause that allowed him to take on an ambassador’s role with the university if he chose to take advantage of it. Spurrier did not immediately jump on that option but is now reportedly settling in.

Virginia and Old Dominion set for future 3-game set

Virginia fans cheer on the Cavaliers after they scored a fourth quarter touchdown against Georgia State in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/The Daily Progress, Ryan M. Kelly)
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Old Dominion’s push to add nearby ACC programs to its schedule continues with the addition of a three-game set with Virginia. The two schools announced a three-game scheduling agreement that will see Virginia get two home games and play one game at Old Dominion.

Virginia will host Conference USA’s Old Dominion on November 17, 2018 and again on September 17, 2022. Old Dominion will welcome Virginia to Norfolk on November 21, 2020. According to The Virginian Pilot, Virginia will pay Old Dominion $400,000 per home game (Old Dominion will not pay Virginia for its home game).

Old Dominion has done a solid job of locking up contracts with multiple ACC opponents for years to come. The Monarchs visit NC State this fall in the second half of a home-and-home deal. Old Dominion has a home-and-home deal with North Carolina kicking off in 2017 and concluding in 2020. In between is a home-and-home deal with Virginia Tech as part of a long-term scheduling agreement. Wake Forest is also added for a home-and-home series in 2019 and 2020 (which means three ACC opponents for Old Dominion in 2020).

Old Dominion has tried sticking to straight home-and-home deals but the financial strain that leads to inevitably took a toll and influenced the decision to concede a home game against Virginia. Part of that appears to be the expected reduction in television revenue coming for Conference USA. Per The Virginian Pilot;

Conference USA officials recently learned that new TV contracts that go into effect in July will reduce the league’s revenue by about $500,000 per school per year. In addition, ODU is set to begin paying athletes stipends in August that are part of the so-called full cost of attendance. The stipends, which pay for cell phones, entertainment and travel not included in scholarships, will cost ODU about $800,000 per year.

With that in mind, it might not be a shock to see Old Dominion’s next scheduling agreement with a power conference opponent come with an extra road game as well.

Temple trustees vote to pursue new on-campus football stadium

Students, such as Casey Dougherty, rally outside a meeting of Temple University's Finance Committee on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Philadelphia. Temple University is pumping the brakes on plans to study building a $100 million football stadium on its north Philadelphia campus. (Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)  PHIX OUT; TV OUT; MAGS OUT; NEWARK OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
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With a loud protest taking place just outside, Temple’s board of trustees voted unanimously in favor of pursuing a new football stadium for the Owls program. A study to review potential stadium options could cost the school up to, but not exceeding, $1 million.

The latest plans for a new football stadium would have a proposed 35,000-seat stadium costing up to $126 million placed on Temple’s campus, thus eliminating the need to rent out space in Lincoln Financial Field. Temple’s football program has called The Linc home since the doors opened in 2003. Temple has not played its home games on its campus since leaving Temple Stadium in 1977, at which point it moved its home games to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia’s sports complex. The vote to pursue a new stadium today is a giant step forward for Temple and the football program and perhaps a long time coming, but it is not one without its share of controversy.

The talks of a new football stadium at Temple have gone on for years, but are now finally seeming to take some steps forward despite a vocal objection from many around Temple’s campus and the Philadelphia community. Protests and demonstrations were planned as the board reviewed the next steps in a new stadium, which is still not a certainty for the university at this point. Among those voicing their opinions on Monday afternoon were students, Philadelphia citizens and more concerned about what a stadium dropped in the middle of North Philadelphia might mean for the community. Given the lackluster impact and results seen at similar campuses, there is legitimate reason for some concern at Temple, which is just now experiencing a new high in football success.

This is just one step out of many that needs to happen in order for Temple to construct a new football stadium. Approval from the city to build such a facility would have to be given, and that is no guarantee.