Robbie Rouse

Predictions 101 — Hawaii Bowl

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Fresno State vs. SMU
Mon., Dec. 24 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Honolulu – Aloha Stadium

After a quarter century without a postseason appearance, June Jones led the Mustangs to the 2009 Hawaii Bowl, following up a 1-11 showing in his first season with SMU.

Now it’s a habit. This will be Jones’ fourth-consecutive bowl game, returning to a place that holds special memories.

In 2007, Jones led Hawaii to an undefeated season and BCS berth. Getting torn to shreds by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl was a bummer, but the journey was magical.

Winning didn’t come easy at SMU (6-6) this year, but the Mustangs got the job done when they had to, beating C-USA champ Tulsa, 35-27, in the regular-season finale to earn this trip to Honolulu.

Fresno State (9-3) has a much deeper sense of momentum, having won its last five games and seven of its last eight.

Bulldog quarterback Derek Carr has thrown 36 touchdown passes, against only five interceptions, and his backfield mate Robbie Rouse rushed for 1,468 yards and 12 scores. That duo rightfully gets a lot of attention, but the reason Fresno State is so vastly improved over its 4-9 campaign from a year ago is because of its defense.

First-year head coach Tim DeRuyter can be confident that his defenders, who allow only 22 points per game, will have more than enough backbone to fend off Mustang quarterback Garrett Gilbert (remember him from his days with Bevo?) and running back Zach Line.

Opening point spread: Fresno State by 11 1/2

The pick: Fresno State 38-24

Click HERE to get predictions for the remaining bowl games.

Predictions 101 — Week 4

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If we were Lane Kiffin, we’d blame the players, injuries or even the media. But alas we aren’t the faultless USC head coach, and we’ll accept responsibility for last week’s 2-5 record (both straight up and vs. “the number”).

Speaking of Kiffin, we had a bead on his Trojans faltering at Stanford, but ultimately didn’t have enough guts to call for the full-scale upset. There’s no glory in predicting that the Trojans won’t cover. That’s a weekly certainty. But when we only land a pair, we cherish it.

Last week’s official upset call (Virginia over Georgia Tech) spectacularly went up in flames. The home office in Burbank, which currently handles the value-laden longshots, promises to do better this time around. With the extra assistance, those should most always get you across the line in good shape.

It’s a good slate of “ranked vs. ranked” this week, hopefully we can rise to the occasion.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thursday, Sept. 20, thru Saturday, Sept. 22)

1) No. 10 Clemson at No. 4 Florida State
Sat., Sept. 22 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

The Seminole defense is allowing a single point per game. When an elite program opens against Murray State and Savannah State that sort of stonewalling is not a shock. But, last week’s 52-0 rout of Wake Forest, a team that had taken four of the last six meetings, was a bit of a surprise and signals that Florida State is definitely for real.

With upset alerts and full-blown stunners littering the college football landscape each week, there’s something to be said for a team that goes about its undefeated business to the tune of 176-3.

This defensive display isn’t anything entirely new. The Seminoles now have held 11 consecutive opponents to 19 points or less.

Perhaps it’s both good and bad news for the Tigers that FSU’s under-20 streak began after back-to-back 35-30 losses on the road at Clemson and Wake Forest last year.

The biggest threat to the Seminole end zone is Tiger wideout Sammy Watkins, who warmed up in a 41-7 victory over Furman after serving a two-game suspension. Last season, Watkins caught seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns versus Florida State.

Fourth and fifth on Jimbo Fisher’s list of worries — Tajh Boyd and Andre Ellington are second and third — are pass protection and short-yardage rushing efficiency. Both stem from uncertainties along an offensive line that allowed the Demon Deacons to sack quarterback E.J. Manuel three times.

Coach Corso will be right to back his alma mater by putting on a headdress out in the parking lot, but it’ll be “closer than the experts think.”

Opening point spread: Florida State by 13

The pick: Florida State 26-24

2) No. 18 Michigan at No. 11 Notre Dame
Sat., Sept. 22 — 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC

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

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