Predictions 101 — Week 12

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Last week, we went 5-2 straight (you can probably guess what one of the losses was) and 3-2-1 versus “the number.”

This week’s slate is probably the worst we’ve ever examined this close to the end of a season. But what are you going to do? The SEC’s scheduling practices and the Big Ten’s irrelevance are what they are.

Here we go.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 15, thru Sat., Nov. 17)

1) No. 14 Stanford at No. 1 Oregon
Sat., Nov. 17 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

We’ve got total respect for what the Cardinal have done, proving that their relevancy wasn’t tied to Andrew Luck. In fact, it wasn’t even tied to Josh Nunes. With redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan looking like he’s the real deal, Stanford will easily continue to be a primetime player in the Pac-12 North.

The only problem with that is the presence of Oregon in the division. The Cardinal are just not geared to deal with the Ducks … as if any team really is.

Since Luck led a 51-42 victory over Oregon in 2009, the Cardinal have lost their last two games to the Ducks by a total of 44 points.

Taking into account the known factors, there isn’t any indication that the results will be different this time. Chip Kelly’s bunch will pull away in the second half to win this showdown for the North title.

Despite holding an advantage over Oregon in several departments, Stanford doesn’t have the ability to adjust on the fly to accentuate its strengths and minimize those of its opponents. That, of course, is the domain of the Ducks and the secret to their success, particularly on offense.

If limited to playing the game within the box and at a normal pace, the Cardinal, who lead the nation in run defense (58.6 yards per game), sacks (4.2) and tackles for loss (9.1), would win. Oregon, however, doesn’t let you breathe and expertly gets the ball out into space where it’s hard to tackle lightning bolts.

Stanford has the ability to control the pace and shorten the game when it has the ball, utilizing sledgehammer running back Stepfan Taylor and the athleticism of Hogan, but getting something out of every drive is a requirement if you’re going to upset the Ducks. We don’t see them putting together a perfect performance at the fortress that is Auzten Stadium.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 24

The pick: Oregon 45-27

2) No. 2 Kansas State at Baylor
Sat., Nov. 17 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

No team in the country allows more yards per game than the Bears … 519.8 to be exact. Of course, yards don’t determine who wins. Points do.

Baylor is really generous with those, as well, allowing 39.4 per game. Only five of the 120 FBS teams are worse in that department. Unfortunately for the Bears, they aren’t playing any of those schools.

They’re hosting Kansas State, which leads the Big 12 in scoring defense (17.7) and is in position to play for the BCS title if it can avoid banana peels and/or magazine cover jinxes.

The difference defensively is the key as both teams average more than 42 points per game.

The Bears hung tough on the road last week, dropping a 42-34 decision at Oklahoma. Some of that had to do with winning the takeaway battle, 2-0.

That won’t happen versus the Wildcats, who lead the nation in turnover margin with a sparkling +20.

Opening point spread: Kansas State by 10

The pick: Kansas State 49-31

3) Wake Forest at No. 3 Notre Dame
Sat., Nov. 17 — 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

The Demon Deacons have the Fighting Irish right where they want them.

Slow down … we aren’t saying Wake Forest is gonna pull the massive upset. But if you are hoping for such a thing, South Bend would be the location for it.

Notre Dame hasn’t been particularly impressive in defending its home field this season. The Irish needed three overtimes to beat Pittsburgh, edged BYU by three points, got the calls to squeak past Stanford in OT, held off Michigan 13-6 and defeated Purdue by three.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though. Notre Dame is attempting to go undefeated at home for the first time in 14 years. Until now, playing in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus wasn’t what it used to be.

But Deacon fans can’t like their chances against an Irish defense that hasn’t allowed an offensive touchdown in five games this season.

In last week’s 37-6 loss at North Carolina State, Wake Forest needed standout wideout Michael Campanaro to THROW a touchdown pass to avoid a shutout.

Brian Kelly will turn up the heat and do his best to build a case for the BCS title game, but there are the usual limitations.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 22

The pick: Notre Dame 29-10

4) No. 22 Rutgers at Cincinnati
Sat., Nov. 17 — Noon ET, Big East Network

For whatever it’s worth, this game will go a long way toward determining who wins the Big East and gets to spend New Year’s Day losing to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Last year, the Scarlet Knights broke a five-game losing streak to the Bearcats. Running back Jawan Jamison rushed for 200 yards and a pair of scores in that 20-3 victory in Piscataway.

Jamison is a bit of a question mark in this one as he was knocked out of last week’s 28-7 win over Army, but did return to the game and finished with 90 rushing yards and threw a halfback pass for a touchdown.

In any case, Rutgers’ advantage in this game is on the defensive side. The Knights are allowing only 13.4 points and 309.4 yards per game.

Bearcat quarterback Brendon Kay, who made his first career start last week at Temple, will have trouble. We smell turnovers.

Opening point spread: Cincinnati by 6 1/2

The pick: Rutgers 24-23

5) Mississippi at No. 8 LSU
Sat., Nov. 17 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Could we possibly get out of here without an SEC game? Nope. And in terms of which one, we didn’t have much choice.

Even more incredible than seeing Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina all listed in a row from Nos. 4 through 9 in the BCS Standings was the fact that five of their opponents this week are Western Carolina, Georgia Southern, Jacksonville State, Sam Houston State and Wofford. And then you have Mississippi’s trip to LSU, of course.

The Tigers did allow Mississippi State to pass for 304 yards in last Saturday’s 37-17 victory in Baton Rouge. But when the Bulldogs were forced to become one dimensional late in the game, the LSU pass rush was devastating.

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace can sling the ball around the yard, but we wonder how the Rebels will keep ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo from crashing down on him if they fall behind early.

In a way, Ole Miss is OK with being on the road. In contrast to last year’s 52-3 loss to LSU at home, the Rebels hung tough in Death Valley in 2010 (coming from ahead to lose, 43-36) and won there in 2008 (31-13).

Opening point spread: LSU by 20

The pick: LSU 35-19

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Ohio State at Wisconsin
Sat., Nov. 17 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

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

We can add Michigan’s miraculous “Hail Mary” pass, which led to an overtime defeat for last week’s underdog, to the pair of one-point losses suffered earlier in the season thanks to placekicking miscues. That being said, we’ve nabbed some outright victories in between and have been within the “number” in most instances.

There’s not much margin for that to happen this week, as we get a field goal while backing the undefeated Buckeyes in their Big Ten Leaders Division match-up with the Badgers.

This setup is reminiscent of last year’s edition of P101’s current “Rivalry Game of the Week” (see below), when UCLA limped into the Pac-12 title game after getting embarrassed by on-probation USC, 50-0. For Wisconsin, it’s the beneficiary of having already clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game despite two losses, thanks to a pair of teams in the NCAA’s naughty corner.

Urban Meyer deserves loads of praise for what he’s accomplished in Columbus with The Vest’s players and the mess he left behind. The potent backfield combo of quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde have accounted for 41 touchdowns and their playmaking will prove to be the difference against a stout Wisconsin stop unit.

The four Badger wins that have them in line for a Big Ten title three-peat have come against squads that are a combined 5-19 in conference play. With starting quarterback Joel Stave out for the season, Curt Phillips filled in last week going 4-for-7 for 41 yards against Indiana.

Wisconsin was able to light up the Hoosiers for 62 points by rushing 64 times for 564 yards with senior running back Montee Ball finding the end zone three times.

That kind of one-dimensional attack won’t work against a Buckeye defense ranked 16th in the nation, allowing 107.9 yards per game on the ground.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 1

The pick: Ohio State 23-13

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 21 USC at No. 17 UCLA
Sat., Nov. 17 — 3:05 p.m. ET, FOX

The winner of this matchup gets the Victory Bell. Not the bootleg ones that go to the North Carolina-Duke or Miami (Ohio)-Cincinnati winners, we’re talking THE Victory Bell, a 295-pound bell from a Southern Pacific freight locomotive.

A couple years after the bell was given to UCLA by its alumni association in 1939, USC students stole it … and even used the Bruins’ own truck to do it!

The bell was then hidden in various parts of the Southland, spurring a rash of pranks on both sides of town, which caused USC president Dr. Rufus B. von KleinSmid to threaten to cancel the football game between the archrivals.

Following that warning, the student body presidents of both schools met at the “Tommy Trojan” statue and signed an agreement that made the bell a rivalry trophy.

For the first time in a while, more than just the Victory Bell is on the line for both teams. Each has the opportunity to lock up the Pac-12 South with a win. It could be said that each squad is trying to repeat. USC “won” the division on the field last season, but UCLA took the probation-saddled Trojans’ place and embarrassed itself in Eugene at the inaugural Pac-12 title game.

UCLA has enjoyed possession of the Victory Bell for only a single year since 1999. In the last five meetings, all Trojan victories, the Bruins have been eviscerated by an aggregate score of 158-35, including last year’s 50-0 waste of time.

Despite all this, UCLA and its supporters are feeling frisky. But, really, how much has changed?

Ask yourself this question: “Would you be looking at this game differently if UCLA had played Stanford yet or had Oregon on its schedule?”

That’s what we thought.

Opening point spread: USC by 3

The pick: USC 34-27

Report: Tua Tagovailoa’s injury serious, similar to one that ended Bo Jackson’s career

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This isn’t good.  At all.

The biggest story of Week 12 by far is the health of Tua Tagovailoa, who suffered a hip injury toward the end of the first half of the Mississippi State as Alabama was up 35-7.  The junior quarterback was carted off the field and, after being examined inside Davis Wade Stadium, was taken away via ambulance for further evaluation.

According to al.com, Tagovailoa is being taken back to Birmingham via helicopter to undergo a series of CAT scans and MRIs to determine the exact extent and nature of the injury.  One report from Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, though, is ominous, to say the least.

For those unfamiliar, Jackson, a College Football Hall of Famer at Auburn, suffered a severe hip injury in an AFC playoff game in January of 1991 and never played another down of football.

It should be noted that there has been no official word on Tagovailoa’s status from the football program.  Thus far, UA has declined to go into any detail as they still await an update on the injury, which could come as early as later on today

No. 16 Notre Dame all over No. 21 Navy through one half

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When the Navy offense works, the clock bleeds, the ball ticks forward and life becomes living hell for the opponent. When it doesn’t, it can get ugly for the Midshipmen.

It’s been ugly through one half in South Bend.

No. 16 Notre Dame holds a 38-3 lead over No. 21 Navy at the half. The Fighting Irish scored all six times they touched the ball in the half, as Ian Book went a practice-like 11-of-14 for 209 yards with four touchdowns, three of them coming to Chase Claypool. Claypool caught six passes for 97 yards and scores of 47, seven and three yards.

Navy hasn’t been able to get the running game going — they run for just 131 yards on 33 carries — but three fumbles by quarterback Malcolm Perry have proven catastrophic, ending Navy scoring threats and leading directly to three Irish touchdowns. The Middies finally sustained a drive with a minute to play in the half, moving 72 yards in nine snaps to set up a 27-yard Bijan Nichols field goal as time expired.

Navy will receive to open the second half.

Upsets a mere rumor in early window as all six ranked teams hold serve

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If there is to be a Week 12 shakeup in the next edition of the College Football Playoff rankings, it won’t be as a result of the early television window.

In the noon block of kickoffs, six teams currently ranked in the CFP Top 25 squared off with unranked opponents.  And, in each of those matchups, the ranked teams held serve — in the majority of the cases by a comfortable margin for good measure.

There was, though, one potentially significant development to unfold during the early window.

  • No. 5 Alabama (-21) 38, Mississippi State 7 — The outcome was never in doubt and the final score doesn’t matter; the health of star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa moving forward absolutely does as the hip injury suffered by the junior late in the first half, and a couple of other injuries to Crimson Tide players for that matter, could play a significant role in helping to shape the playoff field next month.
  • No. 9 Penn State (-15) 34, Indiana 27 — The Hoosiers got as close as three points early in the fourth quarter as the Nittany Lions narrowly avoided a second straight loss, setting the stage for a huge Big Ten East matchup with No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus next Saturday.
  • No. 11 Florida (-6½) 23, Missouri 6 — *snore* *yawn* *ssstttrrreeetches* *scratches self* *snores again*
  • No. 14 Wisconsin (-15) 37, Nebraska 21 — Nice timing on that contract extension, Nebraska, as Jonathan Taylor rushes for 204 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in the easy road win. This game marked the Badgers’ seventh-straight win over the Cornhuskers.
  • No. 15 Michigan (-13½) 44, Michigan State 10 — With pleas for civility ringing in their ears, Michigan beat its “little brother” in Ann Arbor for the first time since 2012 and earned a win in the rivalry for just the fourth time in the last dozen meetings.  It was also U-M’s most lopsided win in the series since a 49-3 blowout in 2002.
  • No. 22 Oklahoma State (-17½) 31, Kansas 13 — In Les Miles‘ return to Stillwater, the Cowboys had no problem whatsoever in extending its winning streak over the Jayhawks to 10 straight, with KU’s last win coming in 2007.  OSU’s Chuba Hubbard, who entered Week 12 as the nation’s leading rusher, ran for 122 yards in the romp.

In the 3:30 ET window, there are five more ranked vs. unranked matchups — No. 2 Ohio State at Rutgers, Wake Forest at No. 3 Clemson, No. 18 Memphis at Houston, No. 19 Texas at Iowa State and West Virginia at No. 24 Kansas State.  Later on, there are six additional such games — No. 1 LSU at Ole Miss, No. 17 Cincinnati at South Florida, No. 25 Appalachian State at Georgia State, UCLA at No. 7 Utah, New Mexico at No. 21 Boise State and Arizona at No. 6 Oregon.

Additionally, there are four games in which both teams are ranked — No. 23 Navy at No. 16 Notre Dame, No. 4 Georgia at No. 12 Auburn, No. 8 Minnesota at No. 20 Iowa and No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 13 Baylor.

No. 15 Michigan pounds Michigan State into submission, 44-10

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Shea Patterson threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns as No. 15 Michigan (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) blew out in-state rival Michigan State (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten), 44-10. The Wolverines outscored the Spartans 44-3 after the first quarter to easily keep their momentum going at the end of the season. It is the first home win for Jim Harbaugh against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. Will Harbaugh be able to complete the rial sweep at home in two weeks?

The way Michigan has been playing lately, it is a wonder how Michigan lost two games this season. While Michigan did complete well in a loss to Penn State a month ago, the game against Wisconsin is one Michigan would probably most like to get a do-over in. Instead, a blowout win over Michigan State keeps the program moving toward a possible spot in a New Years Six bowl game. On the other end of the spectrum, Michigan State’s season is continuing to spiral in the wrong direction, and a 34-point loss to its top rival won’t help matters in East Lansing for head coach Mark Dantonio.

Michigan out-gained the Spartans 467-220 despite nearly splitting the time of possession right down the middle (Michigan State had the football for 3:05). Neither team gave up much on the ground, so it was the play of the quarterbacks that would be a major difference. Advantage, Michigan. Patterson had one of his best performances in a Michigan uniform, while Brian Lewerke was intercepted twice and completed 17 of 30 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. Patterson was without an interception. The player of the game for the Wolverines may have been receiver Ronnie Bell, who caught nine passes for 150 yards (although with none for a touchdown).

Bell has more than made up for his one glaring drop this season against Penn State. Coincidentally, Michigan has turned things on since that Penn State game. Since trailing Penn State 21-0 four games ago, Michigan has outscored its opponents 148-38.

Michigan will play on the road next week against Indiana. The Hoosiers lost in a tight battle at Penn State on Saturday as Michigan was playing Michigan State. Michigan’s regular-season finale at home against Ohio State is coming up on the horizon, but the Hoosiers always find ways to keep things interesting against the Wolverines too.

The Spartans will need to win their final two games in order to become bowl eligible. Michigan State will travel to Rutgers next week looking to keep the bowl hopes alive. Michigan State ends the regular season at home against Maryland. If nothing else, the schedule is about as favorable as it can get for Michigan State with bowl hopes on the line.