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

Third NC State football player this month hits the portal

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Who does this NC State football team think it is, Clemson?

Citing an unnamed source, 247Sports.com has reported that defensive lineman Joseph Boletepeli (pictured, No. 99) has entered the NCAA transfer database.  The website did note that “Boletepeli is still on the active roster for the Wolfpack and can still return to the program despite entering the portal.”

No specific reason for the decision was given, although playing time certainly played a role.

A three-star member of the Class of 2018 for NC State football, Boletepeli was rated as the No. 27 player regardless of position in the state of North Carolina.  During his two seasons with the Wolfpack, Boletepeli played in seven games.  Four of those appearances came this past season.

Boletepeli started the first two games of his true freshman campaign.  This season, Boletepeli was a No. 2 defensive end who ultimately dropped further down on the depth chart.

Barring something unexpected, Boletepeli will have to sit out the 2020 season if he moves on to another FBS school.  That would then leave him with two years of eligibility he could begin using in 2021.

Boletepeli is the third NC State football player to enter the portal this month.  Jan. 7, linebacker Brock Miller announced on Twitter that he was leaving as a graduate transfer.  A week later, defensive end Jeffrey Gunter was reported to be making the same move.

Over the weekend, Miller announced that he would be transferring to Boise State.

Southern Miss co-DC Derek Nicholson moves on to Louisville

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A familiar face has returned to the Louisville football coaching family.

In a release, Louisville announced that ACC Coach of the Year Scott Satterfield has hired Derek Nicholson to his staff as inside linebackers coach.  Nicholson will take over the void left by Dale Jones‘ departure for the defensive coordinator job at Appalachian State.

“Derek has an infectious personality that will blend well within our staff,” the Louisville football head coach said in a statement. “He will bring great energy to our program and is an excellent recruiter. He has shown that he’s a great teacher of defensive football and will be a great addition to our defensive staff.”

This will be Nicholson’s second stint with the Louisville football team.  In 2014, Nicholson coached the Cardinals’ outside linebackers and defensive ends.

In between his time at the UofL, Nicholson spent four years at Southern Miss.  The first two he coached the defensive line.  He was the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach the past two seasons.

Nicholson played his college football at Florida State.

“I’d like to thank Scott Satterfield, Bryan Brown, Cort Dennison and the rest of the Louisville football program for this amazing opportunity,” Nicholson said. “My family and I are extremely excited to be back at Louisville and in the Atlantic Coast Conference. I look forward to working with the coaching staff and coaching the inside linebackers. There is something special is brewing in Louisville and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

Marshall WR Obi Obialo makes way into the portal

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One of the best names in the sport, and a Marshall Thundering Herd football player to boot, is the latest to hit the portal.

Over the weekend, Obi Obialo announced on his personal Twitter account that he has decided to place his name into the NCAA transfer database.  The move is normally the first step in a departure, although the wide receiver could always return to the Marshall Thundering Herd football team.

“I want to thank all of the coaches and staff at Marshall for the opportunity to grow into the person and player I am today,” Obialo wrote.

Obialo also confirmed in the same post that he will be leaving the Herd as a graduate transfer.  The 2020 season will serve as his final season of collegiate eligibility.

Obialo actually began his playing career at Oklahoma State as a three-star 2016 signee who was originally a walk-on.  In May of 2017, Obialo opted to transfer from OSU.  A month later, he moved on to Marshall.

In 2017 and 2018, Obialo started 16 games for the Thundering Herd, including all 13 in the latter season.  In that 2018 season, Obialo was second on the team in receptions (42), receiving yards (505) and receiving touchdowns (four).

A foot injury sidelined Obialo for all but one game this past season.  In that limited action, he caught 18 passes for 244 yards.

Because he played in just the four games, that will allow Obialo to take a redshirt for the 2019 season.  The move also preserved a year of eligibility that he will presumably use elsewhere.

Maryland hires George Helow to Mike Locksley’s staff

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The lone hole on Mike Locksley‘s Maryland Terrapins football staff has been filled.

In late December, John Papuchis left the Maryland Terrapins football program to take a job with Mike Norvell at Florida State.  Exactly four weeks later, Locksley has landed Papuchis’ replacement, with the addition of George Helow officially announced by the school.

Helow will serve as Maryland’s special teams coordinator.  He’ll also coach the Terps’ inside linebackers.

Helow spent the past four seasons at Colorado State.  The first two were as a defensive quality control coach and graduate assistant.  The last two were spent as safeties coach.

The 2018-19 seasons were Helow’s first as an on-field assistant at the collegiate level.

In addition to the Mountain West Conference school, he has also been a football staffer at:

  • Georgia, defensive quality control assistant (2014-15)
  • Florida State, defensive graduate assistant (2013)
  • Alabama, defensive intern (2012)

Helow played his college football at Ole Miss from 2006-10.  Most of his action during his 38 games played came on special teams.