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

No. 10 Washington rides defense to win over slumping Arizona State

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Take one of the Pac-12’s best rushing attacks, mix in the league’s best receiver on the other sideline and stir after dark to get some wild, offensive-laden craziness in Seattle, right? Uh, not even close.

No. 10 Washington rode their incredible defense and used a handful of big plays from their offensive veterans to secure a bruising 27-20 win on Saturday night and drop the fighting Herm Edwards’ of Arizona State to a slumping .500 on the season.

Huskies QB Jake Browning crossed the 10,000 yard passing plateau for his college career and continued closing in on several school records with an efficient 202 yard game. That included three excellent throws into the end zone for touchdowns, one to Aaron Fulleranother to Ty Jones and the best of the bunch in the fourth quarter to help salt the game away to a tip-toeing Cade Otton.

The signal-caller’s play balanced out another solid (if not quite the usual spectacular) effort from Washington’s one-two punch in the backfield as Myles Gaskin recorded 86 yards on the ground and Salvon Ahmed chipped in with 71 more on limited carries. The team punted just three times all game and probably could have gotten off to a better start had their signature Chris Petersen trick play on the first play of the game — in this case, a double-pass — not been picked off.

The real star of the show might have been the defense though. Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven looks like a budding All-American and finished with 20 tackles and two forced fumbles while the entire front seven was a load for the Sun Devils to handle. Eno Benjamin had just one long run on his way to 104 yards plus a TD and otherwise had to fight for running room on every carry.

He was still a bright spot for ASU all things considered… namely how rough of an outing it was for QB Manny Wilkins (104 yards passing) and star receiver N'Keal Harry (five catches, 20 yards). The entire group seemingly continued their struggles from last week’s loss against San Diego State and will now need to find some way to regroup with the heart of their Pac-12 slate coming up next month. After grabbing the nation’s attention with a victory over Michigan State, now will really be the time we’ll find out what Edwards can do as a college coach as he tries to rebound from a losing streak for the first time.

The Huskies, meanwhile, can rest easy knowing they didn’t get swept up in the wild nature of the day in college football with so many ranked teams falling to unranked squads. It was by no means a crisp outing for Petersen’s group but it is a precious win nevertheless and does set up a very intriguing game next Saturday night against a ranked BYU squad. At this point late into the night on Saturday, surviving and advancing is nothing to overlook and, thanks mostly to their defense, Washington did just that against Arizona State.

No. 15 Oklahoma State one of five ranked teams to lose to unranked teams in Week 4

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Especially when it comes to the middle of the rankings, it was a brutal Week 4 for ranked teams.  The most recent example: No. 15 Oklahoma State.

Coming off a huge Week 3 win over then-No. 17 Boise State, OSU was expected to handle business against Texas Tech in Stillwater — oddsmakers had installed them as essentially a 14-point favorite.  Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the game is played on the field and not on a betting slip as the Red Raiders stunned the previously-unbeaten OSU in a 41-17 win at Boone Pickens Stadium.

Alan Bowman, the true freshman who passed for 60-plus yards a week ago, was “held” to 397 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win that pushed the Red Raiders’ record to 3-1.  Tech also took advantage of its hosts in the running game as they gouged the Cowboys, who came into the game seventh nationally in run defense at 74 yards per game, for 224 yards and three of its touchdowns; OSU had allowed just one rushing touchdowns in its first three games combined.

Including OSU, five ranked teams lost to unranked teams in Week 4*.  In fact, just one of the teams ranked between Nos. 13-17 came out of the week unscathed — No. 16 UCF.  The others?  Not nearly as fortunate.

  • No. 13 Virginia Tech — lost 49-35 to Old Dominion.
  • No. 14 Mississippi State — lost 28-7 to Kentucky.
  • No. 15 Oklahoma State — well, ya know.
  • No. 17 TCU — lost 31-16 to Texas.

Throw in a 30-13 loss by No. 23 Boston College to Purdue, and there’s certain to be quite a bit of movement when the Associated Press Top 25 is released Sunday afternoon.

(*No. 10 Washington is currently playing Arizona State and, as of this posting, holds a slim 17-10 lead at halftime.)

Late TD pushes No. 18 Wisconsin past upset-minded Iowa

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Iowa has a proud history of knocking off ranked teams in night games at Kinnick Stadium, and No. 18 Wisconsin’s visit on Saturday had a chance to be another, but a number of crucial mistakes and clutch plays by the Badgers allowed the visitors to escape with a 28-17 win.

In a game without many scoring opportunities, Iowa’s list of mistakes started when Kirk Ferentz made a very un-Ferentz like decision and it immediately came back to bite him.

After forcing a Wisconsin punt to open the game, Iowa marched from its own 15 to the Wisconsin 12 when Nate Stanley hit running back Ivory Kelly-Martin for a 7-yard completion on 3rd-and-8, taking the ball to the Badgers’ 5, setting up a 4th-and-1. The Iowa offense hurried to the line, but a pair of false starts by Iowa’s guards were wiped out when the replay official stopped play to review the spot. Given the chance to think it over, Ferentz chose to go for it again, and Stanley’s sneak was stuffed.

Wisconsin immediately took advantage, moving 95 yards in 11 plays, scoring on a 6-yard Alex Hornibrook pass to Jake Ferguson at the 14:31 mark of the second quarter.

The teams traded punts on their next possessions and Iowa seemed primed to punt again when Stanley loaded up to throw on a 3rd-and-9 from his own 34, but his rainbow found T.J. Hockenson for a 46-yard gain, which he hauled in despite defensive pass interference on the play. Stanley put Iowa on the board with a 20-yard scoring strike to Noah Fant on the next play, evening the game at the 5:15 mark of the first half.

Iowa forced another Wisconsin punt on the ensuing possession, but the Hawkeyes’ momentum was wiped out when Kyle Groeneweg‘s 23-yard punt return to midfield ended in a fumble forced and recovered by Wisconsin’s D’Cota Dixon.

Still, Iowa’s defense forced another punt, and the Hawkeyes expired the final minute to send the game to the half.

Iowa accepted the ball to open the second half and notched a 24-yard Miguel Recinos field goal to take its first lead of the game and forced another Wisconsin punt, but another special teams disaster cost the Hawkeyes a chance to take control of the game. As Anthony Lotti‘s punt spun to a stop on the Kinnick Stadium turf, an unaware Shaun Breyer touched the ball with his foot at his own 10-yard line, and Wisconsin’s Travian Blaylock hopped on the loose ball.

Three plays later, Hornibrook hit Danny Davis III to put Wisconsin back on top, 14-10.

Iowa answered immediately, moving 75 yards in eight plays and scoring on a 1-yard toss from Stanley to Fant at the 1:37 mark of the third quarter.

The score remained at 17-14 when Wisconsin took over at its own 12 with 5:40 remaining, and the Badgers consumed 4:43 of the available clock, taking a 21-17 lead on a 17-yard pass to A.J. Taylor with 57 seconds to play.

Needing a touchdown to win the game, Iowa (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) took over at its own 24, but Stanley was intercepted by T.J. Edwards, and Alec Ingold scored the capper on a 33-yard rush with 22 ticks to play.

Hornibrook was the star of the game, hitting 17-of-22 passes for 205 yards with three touchdowns and no picks, while Jonathan Taylor rushed 25 times for 113 yards.

Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) successfully bounced back from last week’s loss to BYU and won in Iowa City for the fifth straight time. Overall, Wisconsin has won six of the past seven Heartland Trophy meetings, and the winner of the Heartland Trophy game has gone on to win the Big Ten West in each of the past four seasons.

No. 7 Stanford storms back to beat No. 20 Oregon in OT and make huge Pac-12 statement at Autzen

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The faces may change through the years but whenever Oregon and Stanford get together in the Pac-12 era, a classic tends to break out. Such was certainly the case once again on Saturday night in Eugene.

The No. 7 Cardinal had an incredible turnaround starting in the third quarter and stormed back to beat No. 20 Oregon 38-31 in overtime and send a statement to the Pac-12 and the rest of the country that they’re still among the elite in the sport.

Despite Oregon controlling the game convincingly early, Stanford found late life in the third quarter thanks to their defense. After a replay took a touchdown off the board, the Ducks were at their one yard line when they were set to punch the ball in… but fumbled the snap. Linebacker Joey Alfieri scooped-and-scored from 80 yards out to quiet the rambunctious crowd in Eugene and a three-and-out followed. The Cardinal continued to make things interesting after that incredible swing of momentum as Bryce Love then punched it in from 22 yards out to complete the 21-point swing.

While it looked like the Ducks had regained control of things with a 70-yard touchdown drive, the visitors from the Farm would not give up. They answered with a score in less than 90 seconds and then incredibly forced a fumble on the ensuing possession. After some big time passes down the field, Jet Toner knocked home a 32-yard field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime and the team secured an interception to seal the deal in the extra frame.

Love (89 yards) was generally held in check outside of that one scoring run as the Stanford offense mostly had to move the ball through the air. Signal-caller K.J. Costello made several big throws down the field and finished with 327 yards passing. He also threw for three touchdowns, two of which went not surprisingly to jump ball machine JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Tight end Kaden Smith chipped in with six catches for 95 yards and Coby Parkinson found the end zone from 23 yards out in OT for the game-winner.

The stunning comeback ruined what should have been a momentous day for Mario Cristobal at Oregon. Quarterback Justin Herbert managed to insert himself into the Heisman conversation by playing nearly perfect, throwing for 346 yards with just seven incompletions, a touchdown and a pick. He also ran for 35 yards for good measure and his scrambles to keep plays alive were key to sustaining drives throughout the game.

CJ Verdell led the way for the Ducks on the ground with 115 yards rushing and a touchdown but his fumble trying to ice the game was the critical mistake that seemed to doom the team. It also spoiled big play machine Dillon Mitchell‘s huge performance as the junior wideout finished the night with a whopping 14 catches for 239 yards — the most at the school since 2003.

The loss not only sets Oregon back in the Pac-12 North race (with rivals Washington coming to town in three weeks), but also hampers their good start to the year against weaker competition. While there’s plenty of season left to go, defeats like that are never easy to get over and Cristobal in particular still has plenty to prove to the fan base that he was the right choice to replace Willie Taggart last December.

As for Stanford, they will likely tick up some in the polls and can now legitimately enter the College Football Playoff conversation. That clash against Notre Dame in South Bend next week on NBC is one of the biggest games of the young season so far and both teams are no stranger from hard-fought battles over the years themselves. While that will have more national implications going forward, the Cardinal already made an impressive statement in Pac-12 play on Saturday night as they look more and more like the class of the league after quieting the crowd and stunning Oregon at Autzen.