Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cram Session - Week 8

Thursday, October 17

Seattle (5-1) at Arizona (3-3), Seattle favored by 6 1/2

The Seahawks got a little more than they bargained for from Titans last weekend but remained undefeated at home. The Cardinals hung in with the 49ers before succumbing late to turnovers. Now Arizona looks to spring an upset against Seattle at home, where they are usually pretty tough to beat. The Seahawks are working to shed the label they have earned as simply being home warriors. They thought they had done that when they came from behind to beat Houston a few weeks ago. However, as the Texans continue to tailspin that win looks less and less impressive. Marshawn Lynch will have to work extra hard to reach beast mode against a Cardinals defense that is ranked 5th in the league against the run. That means that Russell Wilson might have to carry a heavier burden. Arizona is just 19th against the pass and was torched last week by Vernon Davis. The opportunities will be there for Wilson and his mediocre receiving corps. Carson Palmer is likely good for an interception or two going against the Seahawks superb secondary. All of that leads me to believe the Seahawks will win and cover.

Prediction: Seattle 27, Arizona 17

Games That Matter To Me

USC (4-2) at Notre Dame (4-2)

After a week off, the Irish are back to face one of their biggest rivals, USC. USC has had a season of turmoil that led to the firing of Lane Kiffin a few weeks ago. He has been replaced by interim coach Ed Orgeron, and the Trojans responded in their first game under him, defeating Arizona at home. A bright spot in recent weeks for USC has been the play of sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler. Kessler's accuracy was a bit off against Arizona, but he didn't throw any picks and had 2 touchdowns, without leading receiver Marqise Lee. Lee is expected back this weekend, which couldn't be worse timing for the Irish defense. Kessler has developed a chemistry with Nelson Agholor in Lee's absence. Agholor had 7 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown in the win last week. The Trojans leading rusher Tre Madden had to leave the Arizona game with a hamstring injury and his status is up in the air for Saturday. If he can't go then former Penn State running back Silas Redd will likely get the bulk of the carries after making his season debut last week and running well. Justin Davis is another threat running the ball for USC and has a penchant for finding the end zone.

The Trojans defense started off the year very strong, but has fallen off considerably in their last two games. That means plays will be there to be my made by Tommy Rees and company. Good Tommy showed up against Arizona State two weeks ago, but bad turnover Tommy is always lurking. The running back by committee will likely continue with Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III sharing the carries. Both backs have had their moments but neither has been able to breakout at the same time in a game, and really take control of the position.

The Irish defense still is a far cry from last season's unit but as fans it is time to stop comparing the two defenses. The Irish still have a very strong rush defense that will need to stop the Trojans various rushing weapons. They need to put pressure on Kessler and force him into making mistakes that a young quarterback often makes. Rees will have to avoid making the mistakes that he far too often makes for a senior quarterback. If the Irish can get the ground game going, that will help things considerably. I expect this to be a close, hard fought game like these Irish/Trojans games always are. I think Notre Dame can make more plays on offense and get more stops on defense, and beat USC for the second straight season.

Prediction: Notre Dame 28, USC 23

Thursday, October 17

#10 Miami (5-0, 1-0) at North Carolina (1-4, 0-2)

The U is back! That remains to be seen, but Miami is in the Top 10 for the first time in four years. They will be back in primetime tonight as they travel to North Carolina to take on the terrible Tar Heels. Miami's talented offense led by quarterback Stephen Morris should be able to gash a porous North Carolina defense. If the U is truly back they need to win this game and win it easily.

Prediction: Miami 35, North Carolina 17

Friday, October 18

UCF (4-1, 1-0) at #8 Louisville (6-0, 2-0)

Louisville had to fight and claw their way to victory against Rutgers and have another challenging opponent coming to Papa John's Stadium on Friday in Central Florida. UCF won at Penn State, something Michigan couldn't do, and gave South Carolina all they could handle. They have a talented quarterback in Blake Bortles, and he could prove to be a capable foil to the Cardinals more heralded quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. The Golden Knights also have a good running back in Storm Johnson, who averages over 5 yards per carry. Both teams have pretty strong defenses, so I expect a hard fought back and forth contest. The game will come down to turnovers most likely and which team is able to be smart with the football. Basically, what I am trying to say with all these cliches is that Louisville wins because of homefield and having a little more talent.

Prediction: Louisville 27, UCF 21

Saturday, October 19

Arkansas (3-4, 0-3) at #1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0)

Coach Bret Bielema is learning that life in the SEC is much more challenging than life in the Big Ten. Arkansas has been smacked around the last three weeks and it could get even worse Saturday in Tuscaloosa. The Razorbacks don't figure to present much of a challenge for Alabama, who really is just trying to skate through until November 9th when they host LSU.

Prediction: Alabama 41, Arkansas 13

Washington State (4-3, 2-2) at #2 Oregon (6-0, 3-0)

The Ducks smacked around Washington on the road and while they weren't able to hit 50, they did pour on the points, scoring 45 against the Huskies. Things should be pretty easy this weekend against Washington State, which hasn't really been able to build much momentum since beating USC on the road. The Ducks really are probably thinking past the Cougars when they host undefeated UCLA and then travel to 1-loss Stanford. Oregon has never shown any signs of letdown during this season, so Marcus Mariota and company will be in fine form Saturday night.

Prediction: Oregon 63, Washington State 20

#5 Florida State (5-0, 3-0) at #3 Clemson (6-0, 4-0)

The ACC has taken its lumps in recent years when it comes to football. When Florida State and Miami joined the conference, it was supposed to take the ACC to heights never seen by the conference in football. But instead, the Seminoles and Hurricanes have struggled and the ACC has mostly been a punching bag. That all seems to be changing this season. Clemson, Florida State, and Miami are all in the Top 10, and on Saturday night the ACC will have the marquee game in the country, a game with major national championship implications. Florida State and Clemson used to be appointment viewing when it was the Bowden Bowl, but this year it is appointment viewing because of the teams. That is mostly thanks to the quarterbacks of each team, Tajh Boyd for the Tigers and Jameis Winston for the Seminoles. Each quarterback has thrown just 2 interceptions, with Winston having the slight edge in touchdowns, 17 to 15. Where the Tigers do have an edge is the playmaking ability of Sammy Watkins at wide receiver. Watkins has gone over 100 yards receiving in every game but two.

The defenses don't receive as much attention but each defense is in the top 10 in points allowed per game. Clemson hasn't allowed more than 20 points since giving up 35 in the opening game win against Georgia. Florida State is coming off a 63 points shut out of previously ranked Maryland. Oddly both of these teams had trouble with mediocre Boston College before eventually putting them away.

I gave the defenses some attention but like last year's game this will be an offensive showcase. You couldn't get more evenly matched than these two teams. Homefield went a long way for Clemson against Georgia in Week 1 and I think it will again on Saturday. The Seminoles haven't won in Clemson since 2001 and I expect that streak to continue.

Prediction: Clemson 35, Florida State 33

Iowa (4-2, 1-1) at #4 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0)

The Buckeyes have no ranked teams left on their schedule and finishing 12-0 seems likely, although the final game at Michigan will certainly be a challenge. Iowa is mediocre at best, which they seem fine with since Kirk Ferentz earns extensions every time the Hawkeyes suffer an embarrassing loss. Iowa's young quarterback Jake Rudock is just a sophomore and figures to be intimidated by the atmosphere at the Horseshoe.

Prediction: Ohio State 38, Iowa 14

#6 LSU (6-1, 3-1) at Mississippi (3-3, 1-3)

Ole Miss came oh so close to upsetting Johnny Football and the Aggies, but instead dropped their third straight game. Now they have to face the high powered Tigers offense, and apparently will be without half of their defensive starters for this game. The LSU offense was slowed down by the Florida Gators strong defensive unit, but I don't expect them to run into much trouble against a depleted Rebels defense. The Tigers defense has struggled this season but had their best performance of the year last Saturday. I think they can carry over a performance like that to later games this season, as their young unit continues to improve.

Prediction: LSU 37, Mississippi 20

#24 Auburn (5-1, 2-1) at #7 Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1)

The Tigers defense will face a test the likes of which they haven't seen when they go to Kyle Station to take on the Johnny Manziel's. They did face LSU's offense on the road earlier this season, which is a very good offense, but the Aggies offense has remained unstoppable. Auburn has a dual threat of quarterback as well, Nick Marshall, who will return in this game after sitting out last week against Western Carolina. In his last start Marshall ran for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns, so the Aggies defense will possibly have to spy him all game. The Aggies defense makes games a challenge since they can't stop anybody, but I think that Manziel will do enough in this game to keep it from being close. Auburn had a real tough time with the Tigers, and I think their troubles with the Aggies could be twice as much.

Prediction: Texas A&M 48, Auburn 27

#9 UCLA (5-0, 2-0) at #13 Stanford (5-1, 3-1)

This was setting up to be a battle of unbeaten, top 10 teams, but then Stanford was unable to win at Utah. A week prior UCLA had narrowly avoided losing at Utah, and now will look to end the Cardinal's 12 game home winning streak. The Cardinal come into this game playing pretty mediocre football. The offense hasn't been gaining a lot of yardage, and their defense is hurting and allowing yards in bunches. They will have to get right quickly to try to slow down Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley. What could help is that the Bruins will be without leading rusher Jordan James for the second straight week. This is another one of those games where you could flip a coin to try to pick. Because of the impact homefield can have in college football, I lean with Stanford.

Prediction: Stanford 28, UCLA 27

Last Week: 7-2
Overall: 62-6

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