Thursday, November 7, 2013
Cram Session - Week 11
Washington (3-5) at Minnesota (1-7), Washington favored by 2 1/2
San Diego had a first and goal at the 1 and the Redskins season appeared to be ending at the halfway mark. But then, the much maligned defense made three straight stops, and the Redskins eventually went on to win in overtime, keeping alive their hopes in the awful NFC East. The defense has received a lot of grief but they have forced takeaways in 12 straight games and have bailed the offense out a few times this season. Robert Griffin III still isn't the guy he was last year, especially his decision making, but he was bailed out a few times by Pierre Garcon, who made some ridiculous catches. The Redskins now have to travel to Minnesota on a short week and face a Vikings team desperate for a win. Minnesota is ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball and is playing for nothing but pride at this point. The Vikings outplayed the Cowboys in Dallas last week, but once again found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Adrian Peterson was running like the back we saw last season, refusing to be taken down. Christian Ponder played well enough to continue to make Josh Freeman a complete waste of a pick-up. The Vikings benefited from the Cowboys inability to run the ball, but the combo of Alfred Morris and Roy Helu should find plenty of holes and opportunities. Overall, Minnesota has been good against the run but they have also played a lot of poor rushing teams. Who knows, maybe even FB Darrel Young will continue his tear. The Vikings receiving corps is mediocre at best. If I am Washington I am more concerned about Cordarelle Patterson than I am Greg Jennings. The Vikings have typically been a good home team, but haven't won in the Metrodome yet this season, and have lost their last two games by double digits at home. The Redskins will lose if their offensive line struggles and lets Jared Allen get going. Also, with the struggles of their special teams, Patterson will have a chance to make some plays returning kicks. But otherwise, I think the Redskins are more talented than Minnesota and their strength of running the football will carry them to their first winning streak of the season. Plus, the Vikings terrible secondary could mean plenty of big plays for Garcon, Leonard Hankerson, and Jordan Reed.
Prediction: Washington 30, Minnesota 21
Games That Matter To Me
#23 Notre Dame (7-2) at Pittsburgh (4-4)
Notre Dame survived by the skin of their teeth against an underrated Navy team. Just ask Pittsburgh how good Navy is, since the Midshipmen beat the Panthers two weeks ago. The Irish are likely for another close one at Pitt on Saturday night. Last season Pittsburgh came very close to ruining Notre Dame's perfect season, before collapsing late at South Bend. The Irish defense struggled last weekend, which has to give hope to a Pitt offense that was horrific against Georgia Tech last week. The Panthers rushing attack has really struggled the last two weeks. After a 240 yard rushing performance against Old Dominion, Panthers RB Isaac Bennett has just 93 yards in his past two games. The struggles of the run game put too much pressure on QB Tom Savage. Savage is solid, and has two good targets in freshman Tyler Boyd, who exploded for 11 catches last week and senior Devin Street.
The revolving door that is the running back position at Notre Dame seems to have a new front runner, freshman Tarean Folston. Folston saw his first extended action of the season last week against Navy and delivered in spades, rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown. Maybe Folston can take command of the job, and then have Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III serve as complements. Rees was back to his turnover happy self against Navy last week, but did complete his passes for a staggering 12 yards per pass. WR TJ Jones continues to be his favorite target and could be in line for some more big plays against the Panthers.
The Irish will struggle beacuse that is what they do almost every week. Pitt will give them a battle, especially being at home, but in the end, I think Notre Dame has too many playmakers on offense than the Pitt defense will be able to handle. The Irish defense hasn't been great but with Pittsburgh struggling to run the ball recently, hopefully they lock down Bennett.
Prediction: Notre Dame 28, Pittsburgh 20
Nebraska (6-2, 3-1) at Michigan (6-2, 2-2)
Jordan Westerkamp joined Matt Davison in the annals of Nebraska history for memorable catches as he hauled in Robert Kellogg III's hail mary at the end of last week's game, saving Nebraska's season for the time being. I can't imagine how ugly things would have been in Lincoln this week for Bo Pelini if the Huskers had lost that game. Lost in the Hail Mary is the amazing play that Ameer Abdullah made to convert a 4th and 15 on that drive. He had to get about six or seven extra yards after the catch and fought his heart out to get them. The Huskers will probably have to say a bunch of Hail Mary's to win in Michigan this weekend. They will once again more than likely be without Taylor Martinez, which means Kellogg and Tommy Armstrong Jr. will probably split duties. The Huskers want to get the freshman Armstrong experience, but he has been terrible in his last two games, throwing interceptions in each. He does give the Huskers the threat of the run from the quarterback decision but Kellogg, a senior, makes better decisions with the football. For the Huskers to stay in the game Saturday, I think Kellogg has to see the majority of the snaps.
The Michigan offense will probably think its Christmas morning getting to play the Huskers mediocre defense a week after having to contend with the Michigan State Spartans beastly defense. Devin Gardner should be licking his chops, as versatile quarterbacks have given Nebraska fits this season. Where the Wolverines could be in trouble is if their offensive line plays another poor game. They haven't given Gardner a lot of time and haven't been finding many holes for senior RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. The player to watch on the outside is WR Jeremy Gallon. Gallon came back to Earth last week after his ridiculously dominating performance against Indiana, where he had 369 yards receiving. But he still managed to grab a catch for 35 yards and if Gardner has time to find him, I expect Gallon to make an impact against a questionable Nebraska secondary.
Even with Martinez I wouldn't pick Nebraska to win at Michigan so without him the chances of a win happening are pretty slim. To win the Huskers defense would have to force Gardner into fumbles and interceptions and the Nebraska offense would have to play mistake free football. Instead, I think the Huskers will get behind early, forcing the quiet Michigan fans to make some noise, and Kellogg and Armstrong will become overwhelmed by the setting. Throw in the fact that Michigan is 19-0 at home under coach Brady Hoke and Saturday feels like mission impossible for Nebraska.
Prediction: Michigan 35, Nebraska 27
Thursday, November 7
#3 Oregon (8-0, 5-0) at #5 Stanford (7-1, 5-1)
Game of the week and maybe even game of the season takes place tonight in Palo Alto. So much is at stake in this game. The Pac-12 North, a chance to play for a national title, for the Ducks a chance at revenge for last season, and for the Cardinal a chance to prove their superiority in front of their fans. You have Oregon's 19-game road winning streak going up against Stanford's 13-game home winning streak. In fact, Stanford handed Oregon their last road loss, way back in 2009. Stanford not only wants to end that streak, they also want to end Oregon QB Marcus Mariota's streak of not throwing an interception this season. Stanford has forced a turnover in 33 straight games, and with their previous success against Brett Hundley and Keith Price, and the success they had against Mariota last season they feel they have what it takes to force him into mistakes. Stanford's defense hasn't allowed 30+ points in a game this season, while Oregon hasn't scored less than 40 in a game. Oregon came into their game with Stanford last year on a similar run and then was shut down, held to just 14 points. I don't expect history to repeat itself tonight. Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas thinks Oregon should lay 40 on Stanford. I don't think they will reach 40 but they will come close. I think Oregon will be a better, more prepared team because of last season's loss. I expect the offensive line to do a better job protecting Mariota than they did in last season's game. Another difference will be the play of the Oregon defense. It will be up to them stop Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney from beating them. Stanford's quarterback, Kevin Hogan won't be able to beat them, but if Gaffney is able to get going like he has most of the season, the rest of the Stanford offense will feed off of that. The Ducks defense is overlooked, but when they win tonight, they will get the credit they deserve.
Prediction: Oregon 35, Stanford 21
#10 Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1) at #6 Baylor (7-0, 4-0)
The Baylor Bears have run roughshod over their first seven opponents but beginning tonight we will start to truly learn what they are made of. Starting tonight, Baylor's next three opponents are all ranked in the Top 25 in a slate of games that will either make or break Baylor's season. Baylor leads the nation in scoring, averaging an eye popping 63 points per game. However, against the Sooners on Saturday Baylor will face the 10th ranked defense in the country. That being said, the Sooners haven't seen an offense as versatile as Baylor's. As a defense you basically have to pick your poison because the chances of you stopping all of their studs, including QB Bryce Petty, RB Lache Seastrunk and receivers Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese are slim. While not as prolific Oklahoma has some offensive weapons of their own, like QB Blake Bell who save for a poor performance against Texas has been excellent this season. With so many big time games this weekend, I don't feel like it would be smart to pick chalk in all of them. This game is the one that to me we are most likely to see a mini-upset. This stage will be bigger than most Baylor players are use to, and in an added wrinkle the pressure and expectations are on them. Kansas State slowed this offense earlier this year, and I think the Sooners are a much more talented team.
Prediction: Oklahoma 38, Baylor 35
Saturday, November 9
#13 LSU (7-2, 3-2) at #1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0)
To me this game lost some of its luster once LSU lost at Ole Miss a few weeks ago. LSU finally has an offense that might be able to penetrate the Alabama defense, but I don't think their defense will be able to get enough stops to keep the Tigers in this game. The Tigers won't lack motivation since the Tide have won the past two meetings, but motivation is an overrated storyline that the media likes to pump up. The Tide defense did struggle the last time they faced a very good quarterback, so Zach Mettenberger should go into this game with a high level of confidence. However, Mettenberger also badly struggled in his last SEC game and the running game also struggled to get anything going. The Tide's two-headed rushing attack of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake could find plenty of holes to run through against the Tigers leaky defense. AJ McCarron hasn't thrown an interception in a month, which has helped the defense to be dominant as they haven't been put in any compromising situations. LSU would have to play a perfect game to beat Alabama on the road, and the Bama defense has improved considerably since September's game against the Aggies. That means mistakes will be made by Mettenberger and this game will resemble the 2012 National Championship game.
Prediction: Alabama 34, LSU 17
#2 Florida State (8-0, 6-0) at Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4)
Things started a little bit dicey for the Seminoles against Miami last weekend, but in the second half Florida State showed their superiority, pulling away to a blowout victory and vaulting back up to #2 in the BCS standings. QB Jameis Winston has been so good this year that the media was desperate to label him as facing adversity against Miami because he threw 2 interceptions. Nevermind that the Seminoles never trailed once in the game. The media won't be able to ascribe any ideas of adversity for Winston this weekend against Wake Forest. If the Seminoles keep playing as well as they have on both sides of the ball, nothing will stand in their way of an undefeated season.
Prediction: Florida State 48, Wake Forest 14
#8 Missouri (8-1, 4-1) at Kentucky (2-6, 0-4)
Last week was an impressive win for the Tigers against Tennessee. Not so much because they beat Tennessee, who isn't very good but because they showed no hangover effect from their devastating loss to South Carolina. That is the sign of a mature team, and one that knows they still control their own destiny in the SEC East. The next step they can take in their maturation process is by winning handily on the road against an inferior opponent.
Prediction: Missouri 33, Kentucky 16
#9 Auburn (8-1, 4-1) at Tennessee (4-5, 1-4)
The Tigers were impressive last week in a potential trap game against an underwhelming opponent on the road when they blasted Arkansas. They face a similar test Saturday when they face the Vols in Knoxville. The Vols have been a good home team, winning four of five games there, with the lone loss being a 3 point defeat against Georgia. This is the fifth straight week Tennessee has played a Top 15 team, so they are certainly battle tested. Their best chance to win this game is to put it in the passing hands of Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall. Auburn has been so successful this season because of their run game, especially the play of RB Tre Mason. The Vols surrendered 339 yards rushing at Missouri last week, so they will need a major improvement from the defense this weekend if they want any chances of springing the upset.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Tennessee 27
Last Week: 6-0