Predictions 101 — Week 7

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Last week on “Shakeup Saturday,” we went 3-4 straight up and versus “the number.” That was typical of our mediocre season so far. It’s amazing to think that John L. Smith had a better weekend than us.

Let’s see if we can at least get into a 4-3 alignment or better this week, which features an intriguing slate of games.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Oct. 11, thru Sat., Oct. 13)

1) No. 3 South Carolina at No. 9 LSU
Sat., Oct. 13 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Gamecocks certainly looked like BCS material last Saturday as they dismantled Georgia, 35-7. Impressive in every phase of the game, this “USC” is the one that could make a run at the crystal football.

What remains to be seen is South Carolina’s ability to display that same sort of assertiveness and efficiency in Death Valley. If it can, will it be enough to get past LSU?

The Tigers had a far different experience last Saturday, losing their first regular-season game since Nov. 27, 2010. But let’s not jump to too many conclusions based on Florida’s 14-6 victory. LSU’s offensive limitations can be a sticking point, but its defensive prowess makes up for that.

If not for the crucial Gator drive in which Tiger linebackers Kevin Minter (leg cramps) and Kwon Alexander (broken ankle) were both sidelined, LSU very well could still be undefeated. Holding the Gators to 237 total yards — 85 of which came during the third-quarter drive mentioned above — is typically going to get it done.

No disrespect to South Carolina’s offense, but it will experience far more three-and-outs than usual in Baton Rouge. This will be tailback Marcus Lattimore’s first game against LSU and we don’t expect him to move the chains with his normal regularity.

That’ll put quarterback Connor Shaw in more obvious passing situations and the Tiger defense has the discipline to keep him in the pocket and force tough throws under duress. Not leaving lanes for Shaw to leak out into and run for the sticks is crucial.

The Gamecock defense is stout, as well, but in its only two road games this year both Vanderbilt and Kentucky held third-quarter leads over South Carolina, scoring a total of 30 points.

Opening point spread: LSU by 4

The pick: LSU 21-20

2) No. 17 Stanford at No. 7 Notre Dame
Sat., Oct. 13 — 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i. He’s been the star of our team so far.

The last time they left “The Farm,” running back Stepfan Taylor had only 75 yards on 21 attempts, inexperienced quarterback Josh Nunes misfired all day and the Cardinal did not score an offensive touchdown. Washington’s defense dominated and took away the Stanford running game in that 17-13 victory.

Let’s not forget that Husky defense is the same one that Oregon lit up for 52 points and 497 yards, 299 of which came on the ground. Since the Cardinal could not get things going in Seattle, expect a nightmare in South Bend.

Led by All-America linebacker Manti Te‘o, the Fighting Irish defense ranks second in points allowed, 10th in passing efficiency defense, 13th in total defense and 17th in rushing defense. To top it all off, Notre Dame is also seventh best in the country in turnover margin.

That kind of buzz saw is made to dissect trees.

The Irish offense took a little while to get things rolling earlier in the season, putting up just enough points to beat three Big Ten teams. Of course, that defense which has held opponents to less than a touchdown over the last three games takes a lot of the pressure off.

Last Saturday at Soldier Field, following a bye week, the Notre Dame offense blossomed and dropped 41 points on Miami (Fla.). With that attack catching up to the dominant defense, Stanford won’t get close, as the Irish continue to build their case for not just the BCS, but the whole enchilada.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 7

The pick: Notre Dame 37-13

3) No. 15 Texas vs. No. 13 Oklahoma (at Dallas)
Sat., Oct. 13 — noon ET, ABC

Longhorn quarterback David Ash doesn’t remotely resemble the nervous wreck that alternated with Case McCoy in last year’s mistake-filled nightmare in the Red River Rivalry.

Ash was machinelike last Saturday, completing 22-of-29 for 269 yards and a touchdown in a 48-45 loss to West Virginia. If his counterpart was anyone but Geno Smith, Ash would have been on the winning side.

As is always the case, taking care of the football is paramount. Oklahoma has won the last two in the series by taking advantage of seven takeaways.

The Texas defense needs to do a much better job of stopping the run. Smith’s passing was impressive as usual, but the Mountaineers’ 192 yards on the ground is what really hurt.

Longhorn fans are happy their team doesn’t have to deal with the sort of spread offense that Oklahoma State and West Virginia used to engineer 36- and 48-point outbursts.

But let’s not forget that the Sooners dropped 55 on the Longhorns last year, despite having the ball for only 22 of the 60 minutes. So proceed with caution.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 2 1/2

The pick: Texas 28-27

4) No. 10 Oregon State at Brigham Young
Sat., Oct. 13 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Could we possibly see a shutout here? Sure the Cougars roughed up Hawai‘i, 47-0, on Sept. 28, but what does that really mean these days? It’s more illuminating that in games on either side of that blowout BYU scored just six points in each contest.

The six-point output wasn’t enough in a 7-6 loss at Boise State on Sept. 20, but it did allow the Cougars to get past Utah State, 6-3, last Friday.

That limited amount of firepower, directed by rusty quarterback Riley Nelson (sat out last two weeks with a back injury and now his fill-in is out for the season), could get completely doused by a Beaver defense that kept Washington State out of the end zone last Saturday in a 19-6 win in Corvallis. And don’t forget about the stonewall that Oregon State put up in its 10-7 victory over Wisconsin on Sept. 8.

The chance of BYU’s defense finding success increases with backup quarterback Cody Vaz doing the pitching instead of injured starter Sean Mannion (knee). But the aerial assault will be a shock to the Cougars’ system nonetheless. This is likely to be the first time this season that BYU will be faced with 30 or more pass attempts.

Even with the change behind center, the Beavers will improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1939. But this is more “under” than Oregon State.

Opening point spread: BYU by 5

The pick: Oregon State 20-6

5) No. 5 West Virginia at Texas Tech
Sat., Oct. 13 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN

Aside from all the highlights and astounding statistics, you’ve got to wonder about how long the Mountaineers can survive on the tightrope they’ve been teetering on.

Giving up a total of 108 in its last two games put West Virginia on the brink each time. The Mountaineers beat Baylor and Texas by just seven and three points, respectively. Before that, they only defeated Maryland by 10 in Morgantown.

Geno Smith and Co. will likely do what they do once again, but something tells us that this trip to Lubbock will be tricky. The Red Raiders will certainly be ornery after their face-plant last week against Oklahoma.

We can’t really pull the trigger on the upset here (the Burbank office used its veto power), but we’d be very happy to take some free points.

Opening point spread: West Virginia by 4

The pick: West Virginia 37-34

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

California at Washington State
Sat., Oct. 13 — 10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks

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

The corporate squabbles involving the Pac-12 Networks have reached the halfway mark of the season. That means many households continue to be blacked out from some exciting Pac-12 action, but we doubt many fans will be making angry calls late into the night to watch these two cellar dwellers.

That is, unless they’re on board with us cheering for the Washington State upset on the heels of a trio of conference losses, the last two coming in better-than-looked efforts against the ranked Oregon schools.

We expected Mike Leach to do good things on the Palouse, and while that hasn’t brought much winning in his first year, the Cougars do feature a potent aerial attack that ranks 14th in the nation, averaging 312 yards per game. That unit will have to find success against a Cal defense that allows more than 250 passing yards per game, if the men in maroon are to defeat the Golden Bears for the first time in eight years.

We always like to remind everyone that Cal is Cal. Therefore, after an impressive first conference win in Berkeley at the expense of UCLA, a misstep on the road is in order.

Quarterback Zach Maynard was allowed to stand upright and pick apart the Bruin defense last week, but he will feel the pressure of the Cougars’ new 3-4 alignment, which has generated the ninth most sacks in the country with 19.

Opening point spread: California by 4 1/2

The pick: Washington State 28-20

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Nevada at UNLV
Sat., Oct. 13 — 3 p.m. ET

This fight decides if the Silver State is a red state or a blue state.

The winner gets to paint the Fremont Cannon in its school color and for the past seven years, it’s been bathed in the blue of the Wolf Pack.

The Fremont Cannon holds the distinction of being the largest and most expensive trophy in collegiate sports. It’s a massive 545-pound replica of the mountain howitzer that accompanied Captain John C. Fremont on his expedition through Oregon, Nevada and California in 1843-44. It cost $10,000 to create in 1970.

Speaking of impressive weaponry, Nevada’s pistol offense is one of just two units in the nation averaging more than 275 yards through the air and on the ground. (Oklahoma State is the other.)

However, with the status of Wolf Pack starting quarterback Cody Fajardo in question, those numbers might not be attained versus the Rebels. Fajardo aggravated a nagging back injury last week against Wyoming. Nevada led 21-7 when he was sidelined in the second quarter. Backup Devin Combs struggled initially, allowing the Cowboys to take a 28-35 lead. But the sophomore rallied to lead the Wolf Pack to victory in overtime.

If Combs has to make his first start on the road in this rivalry game, don’t expect the pistol to fire smoothly. But whatever Nevada is able to muster should be enough.

UNLV’s only advantage is playing at home in Sam Boyd Stadium, but that’s where they lost to Northern Arizona last month, so what’s that worth?

It won’t be as gruesome as last year’s 37-0 blanking, in which the Rebels were held to just 110 total yards, but the Wolf Pack should have fun in Vegas.

Opening point spread: Nevada by 9 1/2

The pick: Nevada 32-24

McKenzie Milton’s six-touchdown night powers No. 16 UCF past FAU

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The longest active winning streak in FBS was extended to 16 straight games by No. 16 UCF (3-0) Friday night in Orlando. McKenzie Milton accounted for six touchdowns as UCF topped FAU, 56-36, in a battle of the defending AAC and Conference USA champions.

UCF started off on a quick foot with two touchdowns on their first two offensive series in the game, building a 14-0 lead before FAU could find any offense to work with. After the Owls strung together 17-straight points, Milton drive UCF down the field in the final 90 seconds for a go-ahead touchdown and UCF never really had to look back from there. UCF scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 42-23 lead into the fourth quarter.

Milton had himself another big game. Milton passed for 306 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 81 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. UCF piled up 546 yards of offense and converted seven of 11 third down plays for a first down.

FAU got a productive night from their offensive star, Devin Singletary. The running back rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns and was a difference-maker that provided a much-needed spark in the first half. But UCF was too much for FAU to handle over four quarters. FAU turned the football over twice, including on the game’s opening possession when Chris Robison was picked off. A second interception late in the third quarter stalled a promising looking drive as well.

Having played three games, UCF continues to look like the best Group of Five team in the race for a spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup. No Group of Five school has made back-to-back trips to the New Years Six under the College Football Playoff format, but UCF has shown no reason to suggest they are incapable of becoming the first. With Boise State losing last week and the AAC piling up some good wins as a conference (helping to out-weigh a few bad losses), the AAC looks to be putting itself in solid position to send its champion to a big bowl game at the end of the year. UCF’s biggest competition will come in conference games later on, including matchups with schools like Memphis and South Florida, but having a head-to-head win against a possible Group of Five conference champion is nice to have in the pocket later on.

FAU’s search for a win against a top 25 team will continue to drag on. With the loss, the Owls fell to 0-20 all-time against teams ranked in the AP Top 25.

UCF will stay home next week for its first and only game against a power conference opponent this season. The Knights will host the Pitt Panthers. UCF had a game against North Carolina canceled due to Hurricane Florence last week and had a game against Georgia Tech wiped out last season so the opportunity to finally play an ACC opponent will be welcomed by the Knights.

FAU will begin the quest to defend their Conference USA championship from last year next week by opening conference play on the road against Middle Tennessee State. Middle Tennessee is off this week after losing at Georgia last week. A bye week before a home game against the Owls is favorable, although FAU is still likely to be the favorite next week and in Conference USA.

UCF starts fast and wakes up from slumber to take halftime lead on FAU

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Expected to be one of the top Group of Five matchups of the season, UCF and FAU have not disappointed so far Friday night. After UCF jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the visiting Owls, Devin Singletary provided a charge to help FAU take a 17-14 lead in the final two minutes of the first half in Orlando, but McKenzie Milton drove the Knights right down the field on a late possession to re-take a 21-17 lead.

UCF opened the game on a solid foot with the defense ending FAU’s game-opening drive on an interception by linebacker Pat Jasinski. Just a few plays later, McKenzie Milton kept the ball himself and ran untouched for a touchdown to the right side.

UCF extended their lead to 14-0 with a 10-play, 92-yard drive in under three minutes on their next possession. Milton ended the drive with a touchdown strike to Dredrick Snelson. After exchanging three-and-out possessions, FAU finally got something working for them on offense after taking advantage of a well-run fake punt to keep a drive alive.

A face mask penalty on UCF helped FAU continue to move downfield a few plays later and Singletary broke off a would-be-tackler and took off up the middle 11 yards for a touchdown for FAU’s first points of the game.

FAU kept things going in their favor with another quick three-and-out against the UCF offense. Singletary then scored his second touchdown of the half to draw the game even at 14-14 with five minutes gone in the second quarter. FAU took its first lead of the night with a field goal by Vladimir Rivas in the final two minutes.

The lead lasted all of one minute and three seconds. Milton answered with a lightning-fast 78-yard touchdown drive by completing passes four of five plays, ending the drive with a touchdown pass to Marlon Williams.

UCF offensive lineman Wyatt Miller left the game with an undisclosed injury in the first half. His status is unknown, but he has not returned to the game.

Investigation details timeline of how Maryland trainers inadequately treated Jordan McNair

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The findings from an independent report into the handling of Maryland football player Jordan McNair has been released, and the report puts blame for the death of McNair on the athletic trainers who were on-hand.

“There was a failure to identify symptoms and aggressively treat it,” sports medicine consultant Dr. Rod Walters stated while addressing the report’s findings.

Although it was confirmed that doing so would have significantly improved the chances of successfully treating McNair, McNair was not placed in an ice bath while experiencing symptoms of heat stroke because an athletic trainer was concerned about his size. On top of that, there was a 34-minute delay in getting McNair off the practice field at the first sign of his symptoms and it took a total of one hour and 39 minutes before McNair was taken away in an ambulance for further medical attention.

The report details why cold water tanks were not available either, stating that the cold water tanks that were available at the time of the practice were inadequate.

Board of Regents Chair Jim Brandy denied saying whether or not this investigation was a display of negligence within the football program, but said he would like to gather more facts before saying whether or not that would be the case.

Maryland head coach DJ Durkin was confirmed to have been on the scene at the time of the heat-induced trauma, but there was no decision made on his fate on the basis of this report by the Maryland Board of Regents. However, Durkin will remain on administrative leave until the second investigation into the Maryland football program concludes. A second investigation has been ongoing regarding the accusations of being a football program with a so-called toxic culture. There is no timeline for when that investigation will wrap up, nor is there any suggestion as to when a decision on Durkin’s future with the program will ultimately be determined.

Ex-Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood’s show-cause has expired

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Anyone in the market for a former college football head coach? Kyle Flood is now officially available.

The former Rutgers head coach was slapped with a one-year show-cause penalty as part of the fallout of the scandal that led to Flood’s firing at Rutgers that also cost Julie Hermann her position as the athletic director. Flood was essentially prevented from coaching in college for a year after initially serving a three-game suspension for his conduct in contacting university professors about eligibility concerns for a football player.

Accusations of covering up drug use by players also came under scrutiny by the NCAA as well as the program’s student-ambassador program. Now that the show-cause penalty is served, Flood can now be hired by any college football program without the threat of being punished by the NCAA.

Flood has spent the past year as an offensive line coach with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Flood was 27-24 in four seasons at Rutgers from 2012 through 2015. Former Rutgers defensive backs coach Darrell Wilson also had his show-cause expire. Whether or not he returns to college football is anyone’s guess at this point, but he is now available for hire.

Rutgers is still on probation by the NCAA for another year. The probation expires on September 21, 2019, according to NJ.com.