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

BYU still wants to join a Power 5 conference

PROVO, UT - AUGUST 30:  BYU flags are run around the field after a touchdown during a game against Washington State during the second half of an college football game August 30, 2012 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. BYU beat Washington State 30-6. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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The Big 12 and Pac-12 have gone on record recently saying they aren’t interested in expanding at the moment. The SEC, Big Ten and ACC haven’t said such things, but they haven’t said so because saying so would be unnecessary.

Still, in spite of that, BYU would like to join one of them.

The Cougars held their media day this week (the season doesn’t start until September), and AD Tom Holmoe reiterated his desire to join a Power 5 conference.

“I really would love to see our football play at that level, be playing in a P5 conference,” Holmoe told the Associated Press. “I want our players … in all of our sports to be able to play at the highest level.”

Holmoe said BYU’s policy of not playing on Sundays was not a deal-breaker — and it never has been for any conference or NCAA Tournament the Cougars have ever competed in.

“I don’t know [if the policy is a deal-breaker]. That’s up to the P5 conferences,” he said. “But I do know that it’s something that we hold very sacred. We have never played on a Sunday and we’re not going to play on a Sunday.”

With no offer on the horizon, new BYU head coach Kalani Sitake has a plan to work around that.

“If your only recruiting pitch is you belong to a Power 5 conference, we’re going to beat you in recruiting,” he told the AP.

Oklahoma media files another lawsuit in pursuit of Joe Mixon surveillance tape

Joe Mixon
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The Joe Mixon saga is not over.

After the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters won a ruling from the state’s supreme court in May that a video of Mixon punching a female fell under the public record, the OAB found that the Cleveland County (Okla.) Clerk’s office and the City of Norman either did not have the video or refused to release it.

In turn, the OAB and media outlets across the state are now suing Cleveland County Court Clerk Rhonda Hall, the Cleveland County clerk’s office and the City of Norman.

In case you forgot, the saga stems from an incident before Mixon’s freshman year at Oklahoma where he punched a woman outside a Norman establishment. The video was viewed by the media in a September 2014 gathering. Here is how one described it:

The angle of the surveillance camera looks down from a corner. Its lens is directly on Molitor and Mixon at the moment of the physical altercation. You couldn’t ask for a better camera angle.

There’s no audio to go along with the video, so no one watching the video can be sure of what was said. We can only speculate that Molitor didn’t like something that was being said and summoned Mixon to her table to hash it out.

When Mixon looked like he was trying to leave after possibly saying something he shouldn’t have, Molitor, the victim, initiated the physical confrontation with a push into Mixon’s chest, which didn’t seem to move him much.

Mixon followed by lunging at her. Molitor jerked back and slapped Mixon on the chin and neck. She swung with force but didn’t connect flush or enough to make an impact on Mixon.

Immediately following the slap, Mixon leveled a punch violent enough to knock Molitor down so that her head hit the corner of a nearby table. The force of Mixon’s punch caught me off guard — even when I knew it was coming.

After throwing the punch, Mixon fled from the camera’s view and did not reenter it. Molitor is left on the ground and stays down for much longer than a 10-count. She makes it back to her feet on her own but wobbles and has to be helped into a chair.

Blood streamed down her face as friends and Pickleman’s patrons brought her ice and paper towels to help stop the bleeding.

Mixon sat out the 2014 season as punishment for the incident, then re-joined the roster in 2015. He finished second on the team with 113 carries for 753 yards and seven touchdowns while catching 28 balls for 356 yards and four scores as a redshirt freshman.

With another signee granted release, half of Baylor’s signing class is now gone

BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 12:  A Baylor Bears helmet on the sidelines during the game against the Buffalo Bulls at UB Stadium on September 12, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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And another once-future Bear bites the dust.

Brandon Bowen has been granted his release from Baylor, a school spokesman confirmed to the Waco Tribune-Herald on Thursday. Bowen, a 6-foot-5, 233-pound defensive end, signed with Baylor as a four-star prospect out of Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He chose Baylor over Oklahoma and Oregon last winter.

Bowen becomes the 11th member of Baylor’s 2016 class to be granted a release from his scholarship or otherwise leave the team this summer. The previous 10 are — deep breaths — B.J. Autry, Parish Cobb, Tren'Davian Dickson, Devin Duvernay, Donovan Duvernay, Jeremy Faulk, Patrick Hudson, Kameron Martin, J.P. Urquidez and DeQuinton Osborne.

That’s 11 members of Baylor’s 22-man signing class now gone. The Bears’ 2017 class has one commitment and is ranked 113th by the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Dickson transfereed to Houston, Martin signed with Auburn, Osborne left for Oklahoma State, and Hudson, Urquidez and the Duvernay brothers all migrated to Texas.

 

Coastal Carolina officially joins the Sun Belt today, in all sports except football

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 23:  Alex Ross #4 of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers drops back to pass during their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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One of the final aftershocks of the Great Realignment from earlier this decade officially reaches the surface today.

The Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina are now officially all-sports members of the Sun Belt Conference. In every sport, that is, except football. Joe Moglia and his 41-13 football program will compete this fall as an FCS independent before making the leap in 2017.

“This is a great day for the Sun Belt Conference as we are very proud to have Coastal Carolina University officially join our membership,” Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson said in a statement. “The Sun Belt has a bright future and Coastal Carolina makes a perfect fit as it too has seen a tremendous amount of growth and success with its baseball team most recently winning the College World Series and a national championship. Under the leadership of President DeCenzo, Athletics Director Matt Hogue, and all the Chanticleer coaches and student-athletes, I expect CCU to be very competitive in the Sun Belt immediately and represent the SBC in NCAA championships in the upcoming season.”

The oddity here is that no Sun Belt member has ever won a national championship while a member of the Sun Belt (Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Louisiana-Monroe each claimed Division I-AA/FCS national championships). Meanwhile, Coastal Carolina registered its first ever national championship in baseball just yesterday, its final day as a Big South member and on the eve of moving to the Sun Belt.

That, of course, didn’t stop the Sun Belt from covering the Chanticleers’ run through Omaha like they were one of their own.

Coastal Carolina’s first football season will also mark affiliate members Idaho and New Mexico State’s final season in the Sun Belt. The sleeker, geographically cohesive 10-team Sun Belt will launch its championship game in 2018.