PREDICTIONS 101 — WEEK 1

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Yup, we’ve picked up all the picks and happily moved over to these new digs within the wild and woolly world of CollegeFootballTalk.

Along the way, we also grabbed a new format. We’ll rank and write-up what we feel are the top 10 games of the week (and “two more you shouldn’t ignore”).

What hasn’t changed is that we’ll deliver them to you earlier than anybody. As we like to say here at P101: “We’re not always right, but we are always first.”

Here we go!

TOP 10 GAMES (Fri., Sept. 2 thru Mon., Sept. 5)

1) No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU (at Arlington, Texas)
Sat., Sept. 3 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Rightfully so, there’s a lot of concern over not having Jordan Jefferson under center due to his current suspension. The Tiger offense, which ranked at the bottom of the SEC last year, will need all the help it can get for LSU to win its 18th consecutive game in September at the expense of the Ducks. But let’s be honest here. Wasn’t Jefferson a part of the problem?

We’re not saying Jarrett Lee is the answer. If he was, he would have kept the starting gig, but he does have tons of experience and can get the job done, as he did last season in the heart-stopping victory at Florida. Perhaps not having wideout Russell Shepard (another suspension) is a bigger issue as the Tigers try to match up with Oregon’s vast array of speedy offensive weaponry.

In any case, Les Miles is the kind of coach that can handle this situation. He’s consistently demonstrated a keen ability to get his teams focused by embracing the moment and welcoming challenges.

The offseason hasn’t been kind to Oregon either (the infamous Willie Lyles has left his mark on both these teams). But the Ducks have their starting quarterback, Darron Thomas, firmly in the fold, along side Heisman Trophy candidate running back LaMichael James. They expertly provide the flash and dash, but there’s a lot of gaps that need filling in other parts of the two-deep, particularly on defense.

The Ducks will certainly look great in their all-black unis, but team chemistry could be an issue early in the season. And more importantly, it remains to be seen if Oregon can play with the physicality required to deal with a squad like LSU.

Duck head coach Chip Kelly likes to treat each game the same. “Every game to us is the Super Bowl,” he says. “So there’s no difference.”

But there is a difference, Chip. This game is similar to the one you played last January against another set of Tigers from the SEC. It’s also like the time you spent New Year’s Day with Ohio State in Pasadena.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 2 1/2

The pick: LSU 24-23

Final: LSU 40-27


2) No. 5 Boise State at No. 19 Georgia (at Atlanta)
Sat., Sept. 3  — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Broncos are used to these high-pressure openers that can end their national title hopes before September begins. Two years ago, Boise State opened with a victory over Oregon, which will be forever remembered not for the domination exhibited by the Broncos in a 19-8 win, but for LeGarrette Blount’s post-game meltdown.  Last year, Boise outlasted Virginia Tech, 33-30, in another showcase showdown opener.

These two teams opened the 2005 season against each other in Athens. The Bulldogs crushed the Broncos, 48-13, in that one. Since then, Boise State has been on a big-game rampage winning all but one of their seven games against BCS competition.

The Broncos have gone 26-1 in the previous two seasons, while the Bulldogs went just 14-12, including last year’s 6-7 campaign (their first losing mark since 1996).

It remains to be seen if Georgia’s true freshman running back Isaiah Crowell is ready for prime time, right out of the box.  It’s likely that all that promise won’t rise to the surface just yet.  When it does in September, Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray will get his opportunity to prove that he’s the best quarterback in the SEC.

Georgia has a decided advantage in the special teams department over Boise State.  If the Dawgs are able to come up with a couple game-changing plays in the kicking game, we might be in for a classic.

The deciding factor will be the mismatch between Georgia’s inexperienced offensive line (just two returning starters) and Boise State’s rugged front seven (national-best 48 sacks last season).

Bronco quarterback Kellen Moore deserves all the hype, but without wideouts Austin Pettis and Titus Young (and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin), it’ll take a few games for the Bronco attack to really kick into high gear. Until then, the defense will lead the way to victory, even in SEC territory.

Opening point spread: Boise State by 3 1/2

The pick: Boise State 26-20

Final: Boise State 35-21


3) Miami (Fla.) at Maryland
Mon., Sept. 5 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

We’re gonna make this pick with considerable hesitation and subsequently declare it ineligible. Then, it’ll be up to the NCAA to rule on reinstatement.

All we’re at liberty to say at this point is that despite the ominous storm clouds currently hanging over the Hurricane program, we’ve got faith in Al Golden’s ability to rally the troops, whomever they might be.

Opening point spread: Miami by 5 1/2

The pick: Miami 27-24

Final: Maryland 32-24

(Update: Pick was made before NCAA ruled eight Hurricanes ineligible for the game)


4) South Florida at No. 16 Notre Dame
Sat., Sept. 3  — 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

We can’t wait to hear lispy Lou Holtz break this one down. Is he still working?

Lou’s son, Skip, will be hoping that his inexperienced USF offensive line, which features only two returning starters and a redshirt freshman at right tackle, holds up against Notre Dame’s wicked front seven.

Lou would pick his beloved Fighting Irish over the 1985 Chicago Bears, but for this one, maybe he’ll say it’ll be so close that overtime will be required.

We’d agree with that.

The Bulls will give the Irish all they can handle, however, Notre Dame will continue the momentum it built at the end of last season, closing with impressive victories over Utah, Army, USC and Miami (Fla.).

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 10 1/2

The pick: Notre Dame 30-23

Final: South Florida 23-20


5) Brigham Young at Ole Miss
Sat., Sept. 3  — 4:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Gaining your independence works out sometimes.  Other times, it doesn’t.  For BYU’s sake, let’s hope the Cougars are more successful with it than my oldest nephew.

The first step along that sometimes lonely path won’t be an easy one for the Cougars in Oxford, but they should pass the test.

With only four starters back on defense, the Rebels will have a helluva time dealing with Cougar quarterback Jack Heaps, who should fit nicely into new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman’s pro-style attack.

Let’s not forget that there was a big ol’ miss last year for the Rebels in their opener … a shocking 49-48 double-overtime loss to Jacksonville State.

Opening point spread: BYU by 2 1/2

The pick: BYU 28-21

Final: BYU 14-13


6) Appalachian State at No. 13 Virginia Tech
Sat., Sept. 3  — 12:30 p.m. ET

In all likelihood this isn’t a game you’re gonna stick with all the way through. It’s more of a “just in case” deal.

Everybody remembers the shocking 2007 opener when Appy State toppled mighty Michigan. And most everyone has some recollection of James Madison’s incomprehensible victory over Virginia Tech last season.

Aside from checking to see if something similar might be cooking, it’ll be worth a look to see how quarterback Logan Thomas starts off the post-Tyrod Taylor era in Blacksburg.

Opening point spread: N/A

The pick: Virginia Tech 38-6

Final: Virginia Tech 66-13


7) Southern Methodist at No. 8 Texas A&M
Sun., Sept. 4 — 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN

Things were so much simpler when both these schools were prospering in the good ol’ Southwest Conference.  Since those days and rivals, the Mustangs “died,” moved to the WAC and are currently a member of Conference USA.  The Aggies?  Well … they’re still in the Big 12, for now. But, when they depart, SMU would like to replace them.

Beating A&M at Kyle Field would assist greatly in that process. However, that’s too tall a task with the Aggies welcoming nearly everybody back this season, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wideout Jeff Fuller.

Opening point spread: Texas A&M by 15 1/2

The pick: Texas A&M 34-17

Final: Texas A&M 46-14


8)Tulsa at No. 1 Oklahoma
Sat., Sept. 3  — 8 p.m. ET, FX

What a way for Bill Blankenship to begin his collegiate head coaching career … on the road against the top-ranked Sooners.  Yikes.  At least he’s got 18 returning starters.  Oops, make that 17.

The distance between Tulsa and Norman is only 125 miles, but in terms of football it’ll look like they’re a world apart.

This game makes the P101 list mostly because we want to see how well the Sooners wear the meaningless preseason No. 1 crown.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 20

The pick: Oklahoma 48-16

Final: Oklahoma 47-14


9) No. 14 TCU at Baylor
Fri., Sept. 2  — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Only five starters on the defensive side return for a Baylor team that ranked 104th in total defense last year. The Horned Frogs were a mere 103 spots higher up on that same list.

We’ve got tons of respect for the Bear quarterback Robert Griffin III, but don’t envision him being able to pull this one off in Waco.

Opening point spread: TCU by 6 1/2

The pick: TCU 27-26

Final: Baylor 50-48


10) Akron at No. 18 Ohio State
Sat., Sept. 3  — Noon ET, ESPN

With most of the nation either renting a victim or being a victim, the pickings were slim this week. This particular game makes the cut because you gotta tune in to see what’s left within this current state of the Buckeye program … and to see what Luke Fickell dons instead of a sweater vest.

Not many of you remember this, but Akron did beat Ohio State in ’94.

Huh?

Oh yeah, that was 1894.

Opening point spread: Ohio State by 31 1/2

The pick: Ohio State 45-10

Final: Ohio State 42-0


TWO MORE YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE

Minnesota at No. 25 USC
Sat., Sept. 3  — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN2

The Golden Gophers gave the Trojans all they could handle for just about three quarters last year in Minneapolis, before dropping a 32-21 decision.

The very next week, armed with the tape of that game, Jerry Kill coached Northern Illinois to a 34-23 upset of Minnesota. Kill’s now the head man in charge of the Gophers.

Surely it didn’t take him long to determine that the Trojans have a habit of not defending well against mobile quarterbacks, even before Monte Kiffin arrived from the formulaic NFL to run the defense.

Versatile Gopher quarterback MarQueis Gray could pose some problems for the Coliseum dwellers.

Opening point spread: USC by 20

The pick: USC 31-20

Final: USC 19-17


Northwestern at Boston College
Sat., Sept. 3  — Noon ET, ESPNU

In the U.S. News & World Report’s “National University Rankings,” Northwestern comes in at No. 12, well ahead of Boston College at No. 31 … and for $295 less per year!

We’re not quite sure what that means for the all student-athletes on the respective football teams, but Wildcat quarterback Dan Persa (or Kain Colter) should be able to take advantage of an inexperienced Eagle secondary that went further into the tank, losing a pair of safeties last week.

We’ll be back in mid-November with something similar for No. 1 Harvard at No. 3 Yale.

Opening point spread: Boston College by 2 1/2

The pick: Northwestern 23-20

Final: Northwestern 24-17

Week 1 record: 9-3

Big Ten pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

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The Big Ten won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports’ power conferences to yield to the pandemic.

The move announced Tuesday comes six day after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions.

But it was not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge

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President Donald Trump joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches Monday in the push to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

There was speculation that two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports and became the first school in the Bowl Subdivison to break from its league in doing so; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes had been taken by its presidents and chancellors on fall sports as of Monday afternoon and the powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among the group posting their thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPla. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

Old Dominion has stopped trying. The Virginia school canceled football and other fall sports less than a week after Conference USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown players can be safe after they return to school.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” he wrote. “I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football, but you also know that you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” added Sasse, a former college president. “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football.”

Players unite in push to save college season, create union

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Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players pushing for the opportunity to play this season despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

MAC football
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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”