Predictions 101 — Week 10

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After a perfect Week 9, the fall from grace last week was inevitable.

Last week, we went 5-2 straight, losing the two biggest games (good for Georgia and Notre Dame, bad for us), and 3-4 versus “the number.”

On the bright side, the USOTW is on a roll (good news for Maryland on Saturday).

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 1, thru Sat., Nov. 3)

1) No. 1 Alabama at No. 5 LSU
Sat., Nov. 3 — 8 p.m. ET, CBS

No offense to the parties involved, but we’re tickled that another rematch between these two in January appears to be out of the question. We like old school football, but it’s kind of “too much of a good thing,” and also a lack of fireworks issue.

In this one, we’re seriously wondering if the Tigers will get into the end zone. When you’re saying that about a Top 5 team playing at home, that’s really something, but LSU was able to muster only three field goals in its two meetings with Alabama last season. Of course, that was good enough to earn a split with the Crimson Tide, who were able to register just one touchdown in that twin-bill.

Considering the fact that the Tigers have had to play with five different offensive line combinations this season, in front of rocky quarterbacking, it’s hard to figure where the points are going to come from against Alabama’s rock-solid defense.

LSU ranks eighth in the SEC in both scoring and total offense, and is particularly challenged in the pass game (11th in SEC in passing efficiency and 12th in passing offense).

Playing in Death Valley, however, will be a significant plus for Les Miles’ crew, which is also more battle tested than the Tide. This will be the Tigers’ fourth consecutive game against ranked opposition. Prior to last Saturday’s 38-7 victory over Mississippi State, Alabama hadn’t faced a ranked foe since the season opener versus Michigan.

Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron counteracts many of LSU’s advantages through his leadership and decision making under fire. He leads the nation in passing efficiency and has yet to throw an interception this season.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 7

The pick: Alabama 20-6

2) No. 2 Oregon at No. 18 USC
Sat., Nov. 3 — 7 p.m. ET, FOX

The Trojans won’t need any help from themselves to lose to the Ducks. Oregon is more than capable of flying past USC all by its lonesome, unlike Arizona, which needed Troy to participate by burying itself last Saturday.

The deadly mix of five turnovers, 13 penalties and Lane Kiffin’s wretched coaching will get you every time, even in Tucson.

And now the Trojans step way up in class as they host the Ducks, who have no shortage of motivation to add USC to their growing list of victims. The Trojans are the only non-SEC team to beat Oregon since the start of the 2010 season and since that 38-35 defeat last November, the Ducks have won 11 straight, scoring 40 or more points each time.

Oregon currently leads the nation in scoring with 53.4 points per game.

USC leads the nation in getting the least out of their talent.

The once-thought-to-be-mighty Trojans rank fifth in the Pac-12 in total offense and sixth in total defense. The writing is already on the walls in Troy. Mr. Kiffin will shepherd USC through the rest of the probationary period and then be shown the door. (Unless some poor misguided soul decides that Kiffin is the answer and hires him away first. Don’t laugh. It has happened a couple times before.)

It’ll be surreal to see the Trojans melt in their own Coliseum, but we just can see it going down any other way.

The Ducks are incredibly fast starters, outscoring opponents, 290-56, in the first half this season. But, while Oregon won’t be able to turn the game over to backups after the second quarter as it normally does, USC isn’t capable of playing catch up.

The Trojans have scored only 28 points in the third quarter all season. Yes, eight games, 28 points. Yikes. Obviously, making the proper halftime adjustments is a concept that’s completely foreign to the Kiffin brain trust.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 6

The pick: Oregon 49-31

3) Oklahoma State at No. 3 Kansas State
Sat., Nov. 3 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

This one seems very clear on paper. That’s the only thing that makes us nervous.

The Wildcats have already dealt with the likes of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech, limiting each of them to 24 points or less. Therefore, what reason would there be to not side with a Kansas State team that’s averaging more than 44 points and has scored 55 points in back-to-back games?

Furthermore, the Wildcats rank first in the Big 12 and fifth in the nation in turnover margin (+1.9). Giving extra possessions to quarterback Collin Klein equals “no chance.”

Klein’s counterpart, Wes Lunt, returned to action last week in a victory over TCU, after missing the three previous games with a knee injury. He completed 18-of-33 for 324 yards and got into a groove as the game went on, leading the Cowboys to 36 unanswered points after falling behind 14-0.

We doubt Lunt will continue with that momentum in Manhattan in what will be only the second start on the road for the redshirt freshman.

Opening point spread: Kansas State by 7

The pick: Kansas State 41-24

4) Pittsburgh at No. 4 Notre Dame
Sat., Nov. 3 — 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

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

The Panthers roll into South Bend hoping to wreck the Fighting Irish’s perfect season and BCS title dreams. The possibility does exist since we’ve got a double-digit favorite coming home off a massive victory on the road to face a scrappy spoiler with nothing to lose. We’ve seen this sort of upset many times before, even under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus.

But with Notre Dame’s return to relevance and so much on the line, including a Heisman Trophy campaign for linebacker Manti Te‘o, we believe focus won’t waver. The Irish are further bolstered by the third-quarter display at Oklahoma last week that featured clock killing 12- and 13-play drives.

Pitt won’t see the ball nearly enough to even think about pulling off a shocker. And when they do, Te‘o will be in the way. He might even get into the end zone for a Heisman moment and match the Panthers’ scoring output.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 19

The pick: Notre Dame 41-6

5) No. 16 Texas A&M at No. 17 Mississippi State
Sat., Nov. 3 — noon ET, ESPN

Last week’s divergent results and America’s growing fascination with Johnny Manziel cloud the reality here in our book.

We aren’t saying to discount the fact that the Aggies dropped 63 points on Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium or forget about the way the Bulldogs were dominated at Alabama last Saturday. However, when looking at this particular game on its own, it appears to be close to a draw.

Manziel’s ability to make plays is simply amazing, but Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins will be able to counterpunch effectively.

This season ending gauntlet for the Bulldogs is off the charts (Bama, A&M, LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss), but something is telling us that they’ll pickup at least a couple wins and this is one of them.

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

The pick: Mississippi State 28-27

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Georgia Tech at Maryland
Sat., Nov. 3 — 12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network

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

This is an intriguing matchup as Georgia Tech can only move the football on the ground and Maryland boasts one of the nation’s best defenses, which allows less than 78 rushing yards per game.

In the past two weeks, the Terrapins combined to allow just 48 yards rushing, but suffered a pair of heart-breaking ACC setbacks to North Carolina State and Boston College. Maryland has lost by a field goal or less in three of their four defeats.

How will the Terps move the ball? Their 116th ranked offense hasn’t done much of that all year and they are without a healthy scholarship quarterback after seeing all four of them go down with injuries.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and that means true freshman Shawn Petty, who was previously a linebacker, gets the nod. Last year at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Petty tossed 15 touchdown strikes against four interceptions, and added another nine scores on the ground while running an option offense.

The Yellow Jackets enter below .500 and are still searching for their first road win.

In the battle of options, we’ll go with the home team that has played close games all year and might just get another big special teams play from freshman wideout Stefon Diggs.

Opening point spread: Georgia Tech by 7

The pick: Maryland 16-13

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Michigan at Minnesota
Sat., Nov. 3 — noon ET, Big Ten Network

In 1903, legendary Michigan head coach Fielding Yost feared that Minnesota fans might contaminate his water supply, so he instructed student manager Tommy Roberts to get something to hold their own water. Roberts came back from a Minneapolis store with a five-gallon earthenware jug that cost him 30 cents.

Following that first game between the Wolverines and Golden Gophers — a 6-6 tie called with two minutes remaining due to chaos (gotta love it!) — Yost left the jug behind and it became a beloved “trophy” for Minnesota officials, who looked upon the tie as a momentous victory over a Michigan team that was on a 28-game winning streak.

Yost eventually asked for his jug back, but was told: “If you want it, you’ll have to win it.” Thus began this whole business of rivalry trophies. Yup, “The Little Brown Jug” … neither little, nor brown … but the granddaddy of them all.

The “point-a-minute” Wolverines of Yost’s day wouldn’t even recognize the Michigan team of the previous two weeks, which hasn’t visited the end zone. Four field goals were enough to beat Michigan State, 12-10, on Oct. 20, but three three-pointers didn’t come close to getting the job done at Nebraska in a 23-9 loss last Saturday.

Of course, not having Denard Robinson at quarterback was a huge problem in Lincoln. After Robinson re-aggravated a nerve injury that affects his throwing hand and arm, backup signalcaller Russell Bellomy struggled mightily. Bellomy attempted 16 passes and completed only three to teammates. Worse yet, three of his passes connected with Cornhuskers.

Minnesota broke a three-game losing streak last week, winning its first Big Ten game with a 44-28 decision over Purdue. A balanced Gopher offense finished with 458 total yards, committed zero turnovers and scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions.

If Robinson isn’t right, the Wolverines could lose their grip on Yost’s jug once again.

Opening point spread: Michigan by 12 1/2

The pick: Michigan 24-21

Alabama announces future Bryant-Denny Stadium renovation, Nick Saban donates $1 million to the effort

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The old adage bigger is always better no longer seems true in college athletics and that includes the best around apparently.

Alabama on Thursday afternoon announced a sweeping set of capital improvements to their sports facilities as part of a new 10-year, $600 million athletics fundraising push. Chief among the changes will be a renovation of Bryant Denny Stadium that includes a slight reduction in capacity.

The move will see a complete reworking of the south end zone area and will include a huge new video board, an increased number of luxury box suites, a relocated press box and additional renovations throughout the rest of the stadium. Naturally, a fancy new locker room for the Crimson Tide will also be on tap.

via Alabama Athletics

Perhaps the most notable aspect of all the changes? Alabama will actually be reducing capacity at Bryant Denny and likely will dip below the 100,000 mark as a result of the changes. This kind of downsizing has been a growing trend in college football but comes just eight years after the school expanded their stadium to top six-figures.

Should the entire project be approved by the university board, construction is expected to begin after the 2019 season concludes in Tuscaloosa.

According to AL.com, a total of $143 million is already committed to the project and it received a further boost thanks to none other than Nick and Terry Saban, who pledged $1 million for the renovations.

Given that the school is paying Saban over $10 million on a regular basis each season, both he and the program can certainly afford things even with that big price tag. Perhaps the better question is if Saban himself will be coaching the team when the new venue opens.

LOOK: Oregon unveils new uniforms for 2018 and they’re limiting the options for once

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It truly is a new era at Oregon under Mario Cristobal and the biggest representation of that just might be in the Ducks’ uniforms. Well, perhaps that’s the lack of uniforms more to the point.

On Wednesday, the school unveiled their set of uniform combinations for the 2018 season and while there are certainly some colorful designs, the most notable aspect of the launch was the fact that there were only four –yep, count ’em four — different designs the program will use this year.

“These designs are a representation of Coach Cristobal’s direction for the football program: no-nonsense, discipline, strength and speed,” said Todd Van Horne, Nike’s creative director for football, in a statement. “This uniform reflects those values.”

The school added in their release: “The Ducks continue to zig while others zag; on the field, Cristobal wants to pair Oregon’s speed and explosiveness with punishing, physical play from a mammoth offensive line. Nike looked to amplify that philosophy with uniforms that exude strength and dominance through clean, bold reliance on solid colors.”

So gone are the days where there was a new uniform combination for every single game in Eugene, a “tradition” (if you call it that) that really came into vogue at the program under Chip Kelly. Though the options are more limited in 2018, we certainly can’t say that Oregon went conservative at all with their new look given the big, bold numbering and highlighter colors used.

Still, compared to the past, the program is going down right super conservative under Cristobal based on this.

Sun Belt confirms Commissioner Karl Benson is stepping down in 2019

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There will be a strange sight in college athletics come 2019: Karl Benson will no longer be a commissioner of a conference.

The Sun Belt confirmed on Thursday that Benson, a longtime figure in college sports, will be stepping down when his contract ends on June 30, 2019 after six years on the job.

“I have labored over this decision for several months, but I know that now is the right time to step aside from the Sun Belt and conclude my career as a commissioner and in intercollegiate athletics,” Benson said in a statement. “I am very proud of what the Sun Belt has been able to accomplish since starting here in 2012.  I greatly appreciate the leadership that the Presidents, Chancellors and Athletics Directors have provided both myself and the Sun Belt staff. They give us the needed support to drive the Conference’s existing members and new members to the next level.”

Benson joined the league back in 2012 after the dissolution of the old WAC, where he served as commissioner dating all the way back to 1994. Prior to his stint out West, he also experienced the joys of #MACtion as the commissioner of the MAC for four years and also a staff member at the NCAA national office as well.

A former Boise State baseball player, Benson is listed as the only individual to have ever served as the Commissioner of three FBS/Division I-A conferences. The Sun Belt release stated that the 66-year-old, will eventually move back to Denver once his duties with the league are over next year.

Congrats to Karl on one heck of a run as a commissioner.

LSU AD confirms discussions for series with Florida State: “Real possibility that could happen”

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With one ACC powerhouse already signed, sealed and delivered for a future series, LSU apparently is looking to add the league’s other blue-blood to the future docket as well.

The Baton Rouge Advocate transcribed Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva’s interview with 104.5 FM WNXX and it appears as though Ed Orgeron’s boss is not done adding to the football team’s future schedule by confirming talks with Florida State and others about a potential meeting.

“Yes. We’re in discussions with them. Nothing’s been finalized yet,” said Alleva. “But I’m hopeful something like that will be worked out in the future. I think there’s a real possibility that that could happen.”

Reports of an FSU-LSU meeting on the gridiron surfaced last week but unlike their home-and-home set with Clemson that will take place at both Death Valleys, the series against Florida State would amount to a somewhat neutral site home-and-home. According to Stadium’s Brett McMurphy, the plan being discussed is to have the two programs open the 2022 season in New Orleans at the Superdome and do the same to kickoff the 2023 season in Orlando.

While that would certainly not be quite as fun as having the Seminoles in Baton Rouge or the Tigers in Tallahassee, something is better than nothing. The two programs do have a history against each other — nine games total — but the last meeting on the gridiron came back in 1991 and the majority of those meetings took place at Tiger Stadium.

Both schools have plenty of openings in both 2022 and 2023 to accommodate a series and based on Alleva’s comments, it sounds like something will certainly happen between the two programs eventually.