Predictions 101 — Week 3

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Once again, the team here is seeing things clearly. In Week 2, we went 4-3 straight, gave you Oregon State over Wisconsin, nearly came through with another big dog in Penn State and pegged the points scored for both Missouri and Texas A&M in their SEC debuts.

Even better, we were 6-0-1 versus “the number.” Not that anybody cares about such things, right?

That’s what we’ve done for you lately. Now, on to what’s up next.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Sept. 13 thru Sat., Sept. 15)

1) No. 20 Notre Dame at No. 10 Michigan State
Sat., Sept. 15 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Whaddaya know, the Fighting Irish have a shot to become relevant again. All they need to do is beat the Spartans.

Such an occurrence would mean Notre Dame improves to 3-0 for the first time in 10 years, breaks a six-game losing streak to ranked opponents on the road and effectively eliminates the Big Ten from BCS title contention in mid-September. All fairly amazing. Also quite difficult.

We don’t have much confidence in the Irish offensive line that was able to carve out just 52 rushing yards against Purdue last week. That spells trouble when going against a rugged Michigan State defensive unit that has yet to allow a touchdown, especially with an inexperienced quarterback starting his first game in a hostile environment.

Good luck to redshirt freshman Everett Golson, who had some pre-snap difficulty last week at home, and Tommy Rees when he comes in from the bullpen.

Irish backers will point to their team’s success in last year’s 31-13 victory over the Spartans, but it’s hard to imagine Mark Dantonio’s crew laying another egg like that at home. It hasn’t happened since and there’s certainly no reason to expect a recurrence in this spot.

Opening point spread: Michigan State by 2 1/2

The pick: Michigan State 24-16

2) No. 1 Alabama at Arkansas
Sat., Sept. 15 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

As we all know, the Razorbacks had an utterly forgettable outing last Saturday. Allowing Louisiana-Monroe to leave Little Rock with a 34-31 overtime victory was an all-time low for Arkansas, which went from No. 8 to No. Nothing in a flash.

The Warhawks made themselves at home, racking up 550 yards of offense (412 through the air) and routinely converted on fourth down (6-of-7). Unreal.

Aside from A.J. McCarron’s expert quarterbacking (14-of-19 for 219 yards and four TDs), the Crimson Tide didn’t have a particularly stellar Saturday either. That sounds strange, considering that Alabama registered a 35-0 victory over Western Kentucky, but you gotta shake your head at the fact that the all-world Tide offensive line gave up six sacks and the Hilltopper offense generated more first downs through the first three quarters.

However, this is less about waving red flags and more about knowing Nick Saban won’t let it happen again anytime soon. All of this and a growing injury list is bad news for the Hogs.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 13

The pick: Alabama 35-13

3) No. 2 USC at No. 21 Stanford
Sat., Sept. 15 — 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX

The Cardinal have dominated this series as of late. They’re on a three-game winning streak and have taken four of the last five from the Trojans, beginning, of course, with that upset of all upsets, the 24-23 stunner over No. 2 and 41-point favorite USC at the Coliseum in 2007.

The Trojans are ranked No. 2 in this spot as well, but judging from recent results, they pale in comparison to Pete Carroll’s juggernaut from five years ago.

Sure, USC has a distinct quarterbacking advantage with Matt Barkley, eons more experienced than Stanford’s Josh Nunes. But Lane Kiffin should show off a little more.

Who else could have a Heisman Trophy caliber quarterback share the field with a pair of seemingly unstoppable All-America wideouts and end up with only 187 yards passing against a limp Syracuse team as Barkley did last Saturday?

He did toss six touchdown passes, because stats are supreme at Troy these days, but to win “Pac-10” (we won’t recognize Utah and Colorado until they are deserving) games on the road, Barkley will have to direct an offense more diverse and explosive than the one that saw him toss 21 of his 23 completions to either Robert Woods or Marqise Lee out in the flats versus the Orangemen.

The Trojans should be wary of Cardinal safety Ed Reynolds, who already has three interceptions and 144 return yards this year, and linebacker Shayne Skov, a playmaker who is back for his senior season after being sidelined by injury.

USC isn’t Duke, but the recipe Stanford used to bottle up the Blue Devil running game and limit pass plays downfield should have some level of success.

We get the feeling that Kiffin plays to not lose. Maybe that’s the scholarship reduction talking. Maybe it’s the paranoia. In any case, the Cardinal won’t need Andrew Luck to give the Trojans, sans their kicker Andre Heidari, all they can handle up on The Farm.

Opening point spread: USC by 6 1/2

The pick: USC 29-27

4) No. 18 Florida at No. 23 Tennessee
Sat., Sept. 15 — 6 p.m. ET, ESPN

Here’s how coaches earn those big bucks: Texas A&M’s offense had it all figured out in the first half of its SEC debut against Florida last week. But after working in some halftime adjustments, the Gator defense rose up and put a halt to it all, forcing five consecutive three-and-outs on its way to an easy second-half shutout.

Next up for Will Muschamp and the rest of the Florida braintrust is figuring out a way to slow down the Volunteer pass-catch combo of Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter, who judging by his sensational performance in last week’s 51-13 victory over Georgia State (eight receptions for 146 yards and three scores) appears fully recovered from ACL surgery.

Expect an unpolished performance out of Gator signalcaller Jeff Driskel, who will find himself under siege by a Tennessee defense that has shown a nose for the football.

It’s good to see this matchup return to an elevated status with ranked squads on both sidelines for the first time since 2007.

Could the Vols possibly drop four in a row to Florida in Knoxville and eight overall in this series? Nah.

Opening point spread: Even

The pick: Tennessee 24-20

5) California at No. 12 Ohio State
Sat., Sept. 15 — noon ET, ABC

The Buckeyes carry the extra weight of the Big Ten’s nightmarish showing against the “Pac-10” (Utah and Colorado not worthy) last week as Wisconsin whiffed at Oregon State, Nebraska made UCLA famous and Arizona State rocked Illinois.

The Bears were less than golden in their opener, losing to Nevada. Yet to impress, Cal bounced back last Saturday, sleepwalking to a 50-31 victory over Southern Utah. A rash of penalties this season calls coaching and overall focus into question. And key injuries aren’t helping either.

Ohio State will need someone other than sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller (296 yards and four scores in last week’s 31-16 win over Central Florida) to carry the mail. With a banged up backfield, that would normally be difficult. But the Bear run defense appears to be soft and unorganized.

As we have said in the past, Cal is Cal and will always be Cal. That ain’t a good thing.

Opening point spread: Ohio State by 13

The pick: Ohio State 34-10

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Virginia at Georgia Tech
Sat., Sept. 15 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

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

Incomprehensible placekicking inefficiency got in the way of last week’s upset special as favored Virginia escaped with a 17-16 win over visiting Penn State thanks to a quartet of shanks and a blocked extra point.

We’ll give credit to Cavalier quarterback Michael Rocco, who capped a game-winning 86-yard touchdown drive by tossing a six-yard scoring strike with just 1:28 left. The Virginia defense deserves some credit too, forcing the Nittany Lions to settle for field goal attempts after inheriting excellent field position throughout the contest thanks to four turnovers.

Georgia Tech was victimized by field goals, as well, in its overtime loss at Virginia Tech and gets no bonus points for racking up more than 700 yards of total offense against Presbyterian last week.

The Yellow Jacket wishbone should find sticky going against a Virginia defense that has allowed less than 75 rushing yards per game this season.

Virginia returns 14 starters from a squad that spoiled then-No. 12 ranked Georgia Tech’s 6-0 start last season, becoming the first team to out rush the Yellow Jackets since Iowa did it in the Orange Bowl, following the 2009 season.

Don’t look now, but the Cavs break into the Top 25 after improving to 3-0.

Opening point spread: Georgia Tech by 9 1/2

The pick: Virginia 23-17

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 25 Brigham Young at Utah
Sat., Sept. 15 — 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2

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

The Cougars take their undefeated start, national ranking and the sour taste from last year’s turnover-plagued 54-10 loss to the Utes into Salt Lake City for the latest battle in the “Holy War” (sorry, the new politically correct “Desert Duel Rivalry Game” moniker doesn’t get us going).

This will be a defensive battle between teams in their sophomore seasons of independence and the Pac-12.

Utah has the brightest individual standouts on both sides of the ball, in running back John White and nose tackle Star Lotulelei, but BYU has the team edge on offense and defense.

With quarterback Jordan Wynn now retired from football due to repeated shoulder injuries, senior Jon Hays and/or freshman Travis Wilson will have a hard time leading the Utes to the Promised Land in this one.

BYU ballcarrier Michael Alisa will outrush White, atoning for last year’s limp team output of just 11 yards on the ground. That’ll give quarterback Riley Nelson enough run support to make this game manageable.

Sadly this old and bitter rivalry, which Utah claims began in 1896, won’t be played in 2014 and 2015, and its future after a meeting in 2016 is in question. Enjoy it while you still can.

Opening point spread: Utah by 1

The pick: Brigham Young 31-21

Week 2 record: 6-1
Overall record: 12-2

University of Minnesota distances itself from Minneapolis Police Department in wake of George Floyd’s death

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A despicable, abhorrent, unconscionable situation that unfolded in Minnesota Monday has a college football connection.

Monday night, 46-year-old George Floyd died after a Minneapolis Police Department officer took a knee on the man’s neck.  For several minutes.

Floyd was a black man.  The police officer is a white man.

“I can’t breathe, please, the knee in my neck. I can’t move … my neck … I’m through, I’m through.”

Four police officers connected to the death of Floyd have since been fired.

Wednesday, the University of Minnesota announced that it has severed its most significant ties to the Minneapolis Police Department.  The MPD had assisted the university for large events, including Minnesota football games. That relationship will not move forward for now and the foreseeable future.

From a letter attributed to university president Joan Gabel:

Today I am announcing two immediate changes regarding our relationship with MPD.

First, I have directed Senior Vice President Brian Burnett to no longer contract with the Minneapolis Police Department for additional law enforcement support needed for large events, such as football games, concerts, and ceremonies.

Second, I have directed University Police Chief Matt Clark to no longer use the Minneapolis Police Department when specialized services are needed for University events, such as K-9 Explosive detection units.

The university hasn’t completely severed ties with Minneapolis police, though, with Gabel explaining that UM will “limit our collaboration with the MPD to joint patrols and investigations that directly enhance the safety of our community or that allow us to investigate and apprehend those who put our students, faculty, and staff at risk.”

Outside of that? The university’s “hearts are broken” and filled with “overwhelming sadness.”

Our hearts are broken after watching the appalling video capturing the actions of Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers against George Floyd leading to his tragic death. As a community, we are outraged and grief-stricken. I do not have the words to fully express my pain and anger and I know that many in our community share those feelings, but also fear for their own safety. This will not stand.

I write to you to express our overwhelming sadness, and our demands for accountability and justice. Our campuses and facilities are a part of the communities in which they reside. University students, staff, and faculty are day-to-day participants in the life of every community in this state, and we must act when our neighbors are harmed and in pain.

According to Blake Wilcox, the punter was told he wouldn’t be welcomed back by Wisconsin after taking personal leave of absence

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The latest exit from Wisconsin football is a curious one.

In early February, Blake Wilcox took a leave of absence from the Wisconsin football team for unspecified personal reasons. Wilcox, though, continued to work out on his own.  In fact, he told the Wisconsin State Journal that “he sent coaches videos of workouts and indicated he would be back with the team.”

On May 15, however, Wilcox claimed he was told by a member of the UW football program that he was no longer a part of the team. “It wasn’t my choice at all. I think it wasn’t a good representation of the program on their end,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Thus far, the Wisconsin football program has not commented publicly on Wilcox’s allegations.

“I sent them videos of workouts, me punting, and somehow they thought I wasn’t planning on coming back,” Wilcox told the State Journal in a direct message. “All things considered, I learned that things don’t always work out the way you planned. I’m in a better head space than I’ve ever been it, my grades this semester were great, and I’m ready to keep grinding.”

Wilcox was a three-star member of the Wisconsin football Class of 2019.  According to the 247Sports.com composite, the Wisconsin native was the No. 8 punter in the country.

Wilcox didn’t see the field at all as a true freshman.

Anthony Lotti and Connor Allen were the only two punters who saw action last season for the Badgers.  With Wilcox’s situation, Gavin Meyers and Jack Van Dyke are the only two punters on UW’s roster at the moment.  The program also signed a pair of punters as part of its 2020 recruiting class.

Wisconsin is coming off its fifth 10-win season the past six years.  Four of those have come under Paul Chryst.  In January, the head coach was given a contract extension through 2025.

Syracuse loses second linebacker to the transfer portal in less than two weeks

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When it comes to its linebacking corps, the transfer portal hasn’t been kind to Syracuse football of late.

In mid-May Juan Wallace announced on Twitter that he has entered the NCAA transfer database.  On the same social media service, teammate and fellow Orange linebacker Kadeem Trotter announced that he has taken the plunge into the portal as well.

It appears that Trotter will be leaving the Syracuse football program as a graduate transfer.

“I would like to thank Syracuse University for everything,” Trotter wrote. “I’ve decided to enter the transfer portal with two years of eligibility remaining.”

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Trotter was a three-star member of the Syracuse football Class of 2017.  The Canton, Ohio, product was the No. 48 player in the Buckeye State regardless of position.  Boston College and Iowa State were his only other Power Five offers.

As a true freshman, Trotter took a redshirt.  Then, in 2018, he didn’t appear in any games.  This past season, the 6-2, 226-pound redshirt sophomore played in six games.  All of that action came on special teams, the kick coverage unit specifically.

It was expected that Trotter would’ve seen his role expanded to include snaps on defense prior to his decision.

NCAA extends recruiting dead period through July 31; The Association will also allow strength coaches to ‘virtually observe voluntary physical workouts’

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Not surprisingly, the NCAA has reset its recruiting trail policies.  Again.

As the coronavirus pandemic effectively shuttered the sports world, the NCAA announced in mid-March that it was putting a halt to all in-person recruiting until at least April 15.  Last month, that dead period was extended through May 31.  This month, another extension took us to June 30.

As we close in on the month of June, another extension is official.  As expected, the NCAA announced Wednesday evening that the recruiting dead period has been extended through July 31.  That means all in-person recruiting activities — either on-campus or elsewhere — are prohibited.

The latest edict impacts all sports, not just football.

“The extension maintains consistent recruiting rules for all sports and allows coaches to focus on the student-athletes who may be returning to campus,” said Division I Council Coordination Committee chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “The committee is committed to reviewing the dead period again in late June or early July.”

One potential effect of all of these dead-period extension bans?  It could force The Association to, for one year, temporarily get rid of the December Early Signing Period.

The NCAA earlier this month also announced that football programs could begin bringing players back to campus for voluntary workouts starting June 1.  In the dead-period release, The Association also updated its tack on that front:

Additionally, the committee decided to allow strength and conditioning coaches to virtually observe voluntary physical workouts for health and safety purposes but only if requested by the student-athlete. The measure goes into effect June 1. The strength and conditioning coach will be allowed to observe the workouts and discuss items related to voluntary workouts but not direct or conduct the workout.

The decision was supported by the Committee on Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports Prevention and Performance Subcommittee. The subcommittee encouraged schools that decide to allow their strength and conditioning coaches to observe voluntary workouts to proactively consider the school’s overarching responsibility to protect the health of and provide a safe environment for each student-athlete. More specifically, the subcommittee stressed that schools should plan for how the strength and conditioning coach should respond if they observe an unsafe workout environment or in the event that a medical emergency occurs during a voluntary session.

The committee will continue to explore the opportunity for strength and conditioning coaches to conduct voluntary workouts virtually, as they do during in-person, on-campus voluntary workouts.