Predictions 101 — Week 2

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While we went 6-1 overall last week, we pulled a Houston when it comes to the pocketbook. It was bad, but no one “got resigned” … yet. Maybe we just need to add a “few bad citizens” around here to find more success.

The fear this week is that our team will get caught peeking ahead past this week’s task at hand — an uninspiring quintet rescued only by SEC expansion — to next week’s far more attractive board that includes: Alabama at Arkansas, Florida at Tennessee, USC at Stanford, Notre Dame at Michigan State and BYU at Utah.

Week 2 doesn’t contain a single game pitting ranked foes against each other. We really had to scrounge around to fill out our Top 5 this week. It’s such a sad Saturday that Thursday’s Pitt-Cincy pillow fight made it.

Oh well, still way better than baseball.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thursday, Sept. 6 thru Saturday, Sept. 8)

1) No. 7 Georgia at Missouri
Sat., Sept. 8 — 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2

With nearly half of its starting defense out of uniform (four suspensions and one injury), Georgia was underwhelming in a 45-23 victory over Buffalo last Saturday. Mark Richt will need more hands on deck in Columbia to slow down the Tigers’ slippery spread led by dual-threat quarterback James Franklin.

Missouri, which is making its SEC debut, also deserves your attention in the other phases of the game, after reaching the end zone four times while the offense wasn’t on the field in its 62-10 smackdown over Southeastern Louisiana. Punt returner Marcus Murphy accounted for half of those non-offensive scores in the opener.

Even with all that firepower on the opposite sideline, the Bulldogs still figure to set the pace. Junior quarterback Aaron Murray has a pair of senior wideouts to target and freshman running back Todd Gurley had an impressive debut last week with a TD hat-trick that included a 100-yard kickoff return.

They’ll put the Bulldogs out in front and Jarvis Jones & Co. will make sure they stay there.

Missouri defensive end Sheldon Richardson disagrees, but “old man football” still wins the games in this league.

Opening point spread: Georgia by 3 1/2

The pick: Georgia 27-20

2) No. 24 Florida at Texas A&M
Sat., Sept. 8 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

As the Gators’ 27-14 victory over Bowling Green last Saturday illustrates, it’s good to open versus an opponent that you can work out the kinks against without a heavy threat of getting tagged with a loss.

The Aggies had their version of that sort of runout all set up against Louisiana Tech, but Hurricane Isaac forced a postponement, leaving this visit by Florida as their lidlifter. Yowza.

No pressure, Kevin Sumlin. Your first game in charge at College Station is just Texas A&M’s debut in the SEC. Don’t worry, no one will remember that billboard. And Herbie, Desmond and Coach Corso will be there with you to break the matchups down.

It’s a tough spot for redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. He has  wideouts Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, and rebuilt running back Christine Michael to lean on, but Florida’s ultra experienced defense will swallow up most of what the Aggies have to offer from their new attack.

On the other side, Gator sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel has emerged from a competition with Jacoby Brissett, but it’s still a shaky situation, which isn’t helped much by inexperienced receivers. But they’ll be going against an Aggie secondary that is similarly young and senior running back Mike Gillislee seems capable of shouldering a significant share of the offensive burden.

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

The pick: Florida 23-17

3) Washington at No. 3 LSU
Sat., Sept. 8 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai’i.

Keith Price is back to trigger a Husky offense that’s expected to be explosive. Early in the opener versus San Diego State, the attack appeared as advertised, but when tackle Ben Riva went down, the offense went with him for the final three quarters.

Against a far-from-dominant defense, the Washington offense showed that it will struggle in the post-Chris Polk era. Without a take-charge running back, the play-action game will struggle and Price won’t be able to take advantage of an unsettled LSU defensive backfield.

Tigers in Seattle are nothing like Tigers in Death Valley. It’ll be a long night for the Dawg offense.

We’ve been hearing that new coordinator Josh Wilcox will work with a much improved Husky defense. Well, giving up 199 rushing yards to the Ronnie Hillman-less Aztecs doesn’t bode well when Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and a bigger, meaner offensive front brings it in the trenches. Both Tiger backs will go over the century mark for the second week in a row.

The Huskies are still a few years away from approaching college football’s elite.

Opening point spread: LSU by 22

The pick: LSU 38-10

4) No. 13 Wisconsin at Oregon State

Sat., Sept. 8 — 4 p.m. ET, FX

We don’t know what to expect from the Beavers, who had their opener versus Nicholls State postponed due to Hurricane Isaac. But, really, what would we have learned? Perhaps it serves them well that the Badgers didn’t get a peek and they’ll be better rested.

Wisconsin wasn’t impressive against Northern Iowa, needing to bat down a pass on fourth-and-1 to preserve a 26-21 victory in Madison.

The Badger offense led by new quarterback Danny O’Brien (a “Russell Wilson rule” graduate of Maryland), new coordinator Matt Canada and good ol’ Montee Ball was vanilla as usual and generally effective versus the FCS squad.

The Wisconsin defense, however, could be a concern in Corvallis as the Panthers seemed to figure out coverage schemes and took advantage in the second half.

Oregon State’s young backfield of Sean Mannion (sophomore) and running backs Storm Woods (redshirt freshman) and Malcolm Agnew (sophomore) could be just balanced enough to topple the visitors.

The Beavers are usually good for at least one of these a season, having beaten nine ranked teams since 2005.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 11

The pick: Oregon State 28-24

5) Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Thurs., Sept. 6 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Last week wasn’t a good one for teams from Pennsylvania with new coaches at the helm, hosting teams from Ohio.

Road games after wakeup calls have a way of bringing clear focus to a squad, at least that’s what Paul Chryst is hoping happens for his Panthers.

Except for the fact that Pitt has a short week to rest and retool before this Thursday tilt, this all puts Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones in a difficult spot. Not only would he have preferred the Panthers take care of Youngstown State as expected, but to have a played a game prior to this conference opener would have been nice too.

Pitt, which also might be bolstered by players coming off suspensions, has several wicked weapons. They just weren’t sharp right out of the box.

The Bearcats will go down that same road.

Opening point spread: Pittsburgh by 2

The pick: Pittsburgh 23-21

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Penn State at Virginia
Sat., Sept. 8 — noon ET, ABC

This prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif.

Maybe a home game against a team they were supposed to beat wasn’t the best recipe for the Nittany Lions to begin their new regime and get the attention back to business on the field.

Often times a road trip does a squad in turmoil some good. And while there’s no escaping the past and the emotional rollercoaster that comes along with it, Penn State players now have the experience of dealing with the distractions.

The Lions seemed in control of their opener versus Ohio, but the bubble burst after halftime when they surrendered 301 yards of total offense and allowed the Bobcats to convert on 11-of-12 third-down attempts.

Virginia junior triggerman Michael Rocco was 25-of-37 for 311 yards and a touchdown in last Saturday’s 43-19 victory over Richmond, spoiling the Spider coaching debut of his uncle, Danny Rocco.

Penn State might be drained and shorthanded, but it ain’t no FCS squad. If Nittany Lion running back Bill Belton can overcome an ankle injury and help control the ball on offense, the defense can regroup to avoid a repeat of the sloppy second half effort against Ohio that saw them outscored 21-0.

Smiling faces in Happy Valley are long over due.

Opening point spread: Virginia by 5

The pick: Penn State 24-20

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Iowa State at Iowa
Sat., Sept. 8 — 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

It’s the 60th renewal of the Cy-Hawk Series, which dates back to 1894.

This isn’t the most balance rivalry around as Iowa owns a 39-20 advantage. Last year, however, Iowa State broke a three-game losing streak with a 44-41 triple-overtime win in Ames. The last time the Cyclones won on the road in Kinnick Stadium was in 2002, but that 36-16 upset was a doozy (the Hawkeyes’ only setback of the regular season).

Judging from their respective openers, this one is a tossup, especially since our friends in the desert tend to underestimate the Cyclones.

Iowa waited until 2:15 remained in the fourth quarter to score its only touchdown in an 18-17 come-from-behind victory over Northern Illinois at Solider Field last Saturday. Four field goals normally won’t get the job done against anybody, but the Hawkeyes escaped. Credit the Iowa defense, which held the Huskies to just 201 total yards, only 54 of which came through the air.

Iowa State, on the other hand, overcame a horrific start and scored 24 unanswered to beat a decent Tulsa squad, 38-23, last week in Ames. Quarterback Steele Jantz was 32-of-45 for 281 yards. He sprayed his aerials around to nine different receivers and accounted for three touchdowns.

The Cyclones, who displayed a sturdy defense in the final three quarters versus the Golden Hurricane, will be tested by Hawkeye sophomore tailback Damon Bullock, who rushed for 150 yards and that lone touchdown (a 23-yarder on third-and-9). However, Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg passed for only 129 yards and was sacked six times, giving something new offensive coordinator Greg Davis to work on.

Opening point spread: Iowa by 4

The pick: Iowa 26-24

Week 1 record: 6-1

Maryland RB Lorenzo Harrison III medically retires from football

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Maryland running back Lorenzo Harrison III announced he is medically retiring from football. In a statement shared on his Twitter account on Monday afternoon, Harrison cited his history with knee trouble as a reason he is stepping away from playing football moving forward.

“[During] the last game I competed in, I suffered a severe knee injury,” Harrison explained. “Due to those circumstances which are far out of my control, I believe it is in my best interest to convert my focus from ball to the next great thing God has in store for me. With that being said, I am medically retiring from the game that has given me everything I could ever ask for.”

The last game Harrison played was on Sept. 27, 2019 at home against Penn State. In Maryland’s 59-0 loss to the Nittany Lions, Harrison had one rushing attempt for an eight-yard gain. It is in that game Harrison says his knee injury was suffered.

Harrison’s final two seasons in a Maryland uniform saw injuries get in the way of keeping him on the field and a part of the offense. Harrison rushed for 633 yards in 2017 and 622 yards in 2018 before being held to just 84 yards in 2018 and 70 yards in 2019 in a combined total of five games the last two years.

Report: Graham Harrell expected to stay at USC after interviewing for NFL job

USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is expected to remain with the Trojans after interviewing with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.
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USC head coach Clay Helton may not have to worry about finding a new offensive coordinator for the second striaght offseason. USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is expected to stay with the Trojans after interviewing for a job in the NFL, according to Bruce Feldman of The Athletic (via Twitter).

It was reported last week the Philadelphia Eagles were set to interview Harrell about their vacancy at offensive coordinator. Whether the Eagles or Harrell decided the fit wasn’t right is unknown at this time, but it is good news for USC either way.

Last year, USC lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to a head coaching opportunity with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. Kingsbury’s stay in USC was brief, as he took the job as an offensive coordinator after being let go as head coach at Texas Tech earlier in the offseason. USC replaced Kingsbury with the hiring of Harell from North Texas. Last month, USC locked in Harrell to a multi-year extension in hopes of keeping Harrell from accepting any other position with another program. Texas reportedly had been interested in adding Harrell to its coaching staff in Austin.

Southern Miss offensive coordinator leaves to join Georgia staff

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How big is the gap between the SEC and Conference USA? So big that Buster Faulkner would evidently rather be an analyst in the SEC than a coordinator in C-USA.

The Southern Miss offensive coordinator is leaving Hattiesburg to join Kirby Smart‘s staff in Athens. Smart has already hired former Todd Monken (ironically, a former Southern Miss head coach) to be his offensive coordinator, and there are no spots open on Georgia’s on-the-field staff. So, according to Dawgs247, Faulkner will join as an analyst.

While nothing has been announced, Faulkner on Monday confirmed his departure out of Hattiesburg.

“Thank you Coach Hop for allowing me to be a part of something special in Hattiesburg,” he tweeted. “I was able to work with some incredible men on this offensive staff! To the players-I love you guys, thanks for everything. I had a blast working with y’all. I wish you guys the best.”

A former Valdosta State quarterback when Smart was on the coaching staff, Faulkner spent just 2019 at Southern Miss after spending the previous three at Arkansas State. He helped the Golden Eagles fly from 109th to 48th in yards per play.

Kerry Coombs set to return to Ohio State

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Ohio State has an opening for a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach now that Jeff Hafley is Boston College’s head coach. And Ryan Day has found the perfect guy to fill that role — Ohio State’s old defensive backs coach.

Ever-popular assistant coach Kerry Coombs is set to return to Columbus as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, according to multiple reports on Monday. (Letterman Row first reported the news.)

An original member of Urban Meyer‘s Ohio State staff, Coombs coached the Buckeyes’ defensive backs from 2012-17, a period that saw Ohio State rank among the top 13 nationally in pass efficiency defense four times, including 2017. Ohio State immediately slunk to 42nd in 2018, leading to Day’s hiring of Hafley. Ohio State immediately rocketed to first (they were second until LSU shredded Clemson last Monday), which led to Hafley’s hiring at BC and, now, Coombs’ return.

“I told the [defensive backs] last year at this time: ‘I am going to go get the best guy in the country.’ They didn’t know who Jeff Hafley was,” Day said last month. “Now they love him, they’re going to miss him. Going to do the same thing again next year, go get the best there is. You call around to different people that you respect. But usually the people you bring in are people that you know really well and you trust.”

Day spent the past two seasons as the defensive backs coach for the Tennessee Titans, and he’ll now return to a senior role he never would’ve gotten had he not left in the first place.