Thursday, September 17, 2015

Cram Session - Week 3

Thursday, September 17

Denver (1-0) at Kansas City (1-0), Kansas City favored by 3

Broncos fans hoping that the noodle armed Peyton Manning we saw towards the end of last season was just a mirage, are sweating a little more. That is because Manning was basically a non-factor in Denver's win over Baltimore. He threw zero touchdowns and had an interception returned for a touchdown. The Broncos defense was able to bail Manning out, which is something that hasn't been said in Manning's previous three seasons in Denver. My AFC West pick, the Chiefs started the year strong with a dominating win at Houston. Alex Smith played well, throwing for three touchdown passes, although a touchdown pass to a receiver still eludes him. I am not ready to predict that that streak will end tonight, but I feel confident that the Chiefs are the better team and will win this game. Manning had trouble with the Ravens pass rush and things could be even worse for him on the road at loud Arrowhead Stadium. I expect another uneven performance from him, while the Chiefs weapons of Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin make enough plays to give Kansas City a crucial early season victory.

Prediction: Kansas City 23, Denver 16

Games That Matter to Me

Nebraska (1-1) at Miami (2-0)

This game doesn't have the cache of those 90s battles between these programs, as both are unranked. Still, it should be a competitive, entertaining game when they play each other on Saturday. Nebraska was able to get the bad taste of the BYU loss out of their mouths by destroying South Alabama. Whether or not that got them ready to play the Canes remains to be seen. As I hoped, Mike Riley seemed to decide that Terrell Newby was his guy at running back, giving him 28 carries as he rumbled for 198 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns. Tommy Armstrong Jr. seems to be building a nice rapport with not just Jordan Westerkamp but also Brandon Reilly, who leads the Huskers in catches through the first two games. The Huskers will need Newby to now show he is capable of this type of rushing performance against upper tier talent that the Hurricanes have defensively. The Huskers offense will be hard to stop if they are able to hit that right amount of balance between running and throwing.

In last season's matchup with Miami, the Huskers defense had problems at times with talented Miami QB Brad Kaaya. Kaaya was just a few games into his career then, so the Kaaya the Huskers see Saturday will be more polished. Kaaya hasn't thrown any interceptions this season, and the Huskers secondary showed against BYU that they can be susceptible to the big play. Speaking of big play, the Huskers should be spending a lot of their preparation time on RB Joseph Yearby. Yearby is not just a talented running back, but can also hurt teams as a receiver. I expect Miami to move Yearby around quite a bit in their offensive formations, to try to keep the Huskers defense guessing.

Nebraska is still a work in progress under Riley and I don't think they have come together enough as a team to go on the road and beat the Canes. Miami is a work in progress as well, and that is where the home field advantage will make the difference.

Prediction: Miami 30, Nebraska 24

Top 10

Friday, September 18

#9 Florida State (2-0, 0-0) at Boston College (2-0, 0-0)

A rare Top 10 college football game under the Friday night lights. Strange things tend to happen when ranked teams go on the road on Thursday nights, and the Eagles will be doing everything in their power to transition that to Friday nights. The Eagles will be getting quite a bump in competition after playing Maine and Howard. Their defense only allowed 3 points in those two victories, and shut out Howard in a 76-0 victory. Everett Golson has avoided the turnover bug in his first two starts, but the bigger story on offense for the Seminoles has been RB Dalvin Cook. Cook is averaging over 8 yards per carry in his first two games and shredded South Florida for 266 yards and 3 touchdowns. Boston College will have to cut down his production significantly to have any prayer in this game. Boston College has come close the previous two years to knocking off Florida State, and might feel they are due. However, I expect this will end up another cruel chapter in the story of their inability to upset the Seminoles.

Prediction: Florida State 30, Boston College 27

Saturday, September 19

Northern Illinois (2-0) at #1 Ohio State (2-0)

Ohio State didn't kill Hawaii enough or gave up too few points by shutting them out, so they are no longer unanimously #1 in the AP poll. They face another cupcake this week in Northern Illinois. Northern Illinois has flirted with relevancy a couple times in the past decade or so but this year isn't one of those years. The only reason to watch this game is to see how Urban Meyer uses Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett at quarterback.

Prediction: Ohio State 49, Northern Illinois 10

#15 Mississippi (2-0, 0-0) at #2 Alabama (2-0, 0-0)

By sending College Gameday to Tuscaloosa they have deemed this the game of the weekend. For some reason it isn't starting until 915 pm eastern and with how long college football games take, only the most diehard of fans will be awake for the finish of this one. The SEC took a hit last week as the conference saw some really poor performances from some of their supposed better teams. These two teams did not fall into that trap, especially Mississippi, which scored over 70, yes 70 points for the second straight week. The most fascinating subplot of this game will be seeing how the Rebels offensive firepower fares against the stout Crimson Tide defense. QB Chad Kelly had a game for the ages against Fresno State last week and probably gave coach Huge Freeze confidence that he can try to air it out some this weekend. Senior WR Cody Core and junior WR Quincy Abedoyejo and the returning Laquon Treadwell will draw heavy coverage from the Tide, but the Bama defense also has to put their attention on a smorgasbord of running back options that the Rebels employ.

Saban and the Tide offense will try to pound the rock with RB Derrick Henry, but when called upon will need QB Jake Coker to quickly step up his game. Coker has been serviceable the first two weeks, but if the Tide defense can't slow down this Rebels attack, Coker will need to do more. It only makes sense that the Alabama offensive game plan will focus on Henry to control the clock and keep the ball out of the Rebels high powered offenses hands.

I am going to go out on a major limb here and predict that the Rebels 70+ points scoring streak comes to an end on Saturday! All kidding aside, I don't think the Tide will shut down the Rebels completely, so it will be imperative that the Bama offense is clicking. Bama's players will have a little extra motivation this week as they remember losing to Mississippi last season. Add that motivation to all the talk the Rebels offense has received so far and I expect a big time atmosphere for this game.

Prediction: Alabama 34, Mississippi 24

SMU (1-1) at #3 TCU (2-0)

TCU and Baylor have begun to develop quite the rivalry since TCU joined the Big 12 and in this instance TCU will probably try to top Baylor's victory over SMU from a few weeks ago. Baylor beat SMU 56-21 and I think TCU can top that. After a sluggish performance against Minnesota, the Horned Frogs hung 70 on Stephen F. Austin. SMU will put up more of a fight than Stephen F. Austin but this game will still be a rout.

Prediction: TCU 59, SMU 17

Air Force (2-0) at #4 Michigan State (2-0)

The Spartans hung tough and held off Oregon late to give themselves a strong, playoff resume building win at home. Their players now to have refocus on a team that is likely to not get the juices flowing as much, but can't be overlooked in Air Force. The next month appears to be a pretty easy one for the Spartans schedule wise, so they need to get some style points in these games and keep their perception strong. In this game, I expect some sluggishness out of the Spartans but not enough for the game to be overly interesting

Prediction: Michigan State 35, Air Force 20

Stanford (1-1, 0-0) at #6 USC (2-0, 0-0)

This game lost quite a bit of luster with Stanford's season opening stinker at Northwestern. The Trojans have decimated their first two opponents, so Cody Kessler faces his first true challenge in the Cardinal's defense. The Cardinal offense, led by QB Kevin Hogan found their footing slightly against Central Florida last week, but this does not look like a team ready to go on the road to the Coliseum and pull off an upset. One name from the Trojans you will hear called in this game is WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. JuJu leads the Trojans in receiving this year with 14 catches and 3 touchdowns. He also easily has one of the best names in all of sports.

Prediction: USC 35, Stanford 17

South Carolina (1-1, 0-1) at #7 Georgia (2-0, 1-0)

All of Steve Spurrier's hard work to build the Gamecocks into consistent contenders seems to be going by the wayside. South Carolina suffered an uneven season last year and is now coming off a loss at home to Kentucky. Offense is Spurrier's calling card and he hasn't been able to get that side of the ball right the past few seasons. The Cocks defense has played pretty well thus far but I don't expect them to have answers for Bulldogs RB Nick Chubb. Bulldogs fans will get maximum chub watching Nick shred the Gamecocks on Saturday.

Prediction: Georgia 34, South Carolina 20

#14 Georgia Tech (2-0) at #8 Notre Dame (2-0)

Notre Dame is quickly running out of starters as last week's win against Virgina saw the Irish lose QB Malik Zaire for the season and their starting tight end Durham Smythe. That UVA game turned out to be much more of a roller coaster ride than any Irish fan was ready for. Once Zaire got hurt and then later when UVA took the lead, Irish fans had chalked this up as a loss. But then backup QB DeShone Kizer came in and found Will Fuller for a long touchdown to seal the victory. What Kizer did, coming in cold, on the road was impressive, but even more will be needed from home this weekend at home against undefeated Georgia Tech. He should receive support from RB C.J. Prosise, who had another excellent game against Virginia after his strong play against Texas in the opener.

While how Kizer and the offense player is important, of more importance this weekend will be the defense. The defense surprisingly struggled the Cavaliers mundane offense, especially defending some trick plays. While those plays were not the norm for Virginia, the Yellow Jackets spread and triple option offense feasts off confusing defenses. The Yellow Jackets hung 69 on Alcorn State in Week 1 and then 65 last week against Tulane. QB Justin Thomas is the facilitator for what decisions will be made within the offense and who gets the ball. Sometimes he will keep it himself but he doesn't throw often, and is more dangerous when he decides to run. Patrick Scov and Marcus Marshall are Tech's primary running backs and each is capable of turning a 2 or 3 yard run into a burst to the end zone. Justin Thomas and Brady Swilling also have received a good amount of carries. So the problem for defenses is, they don't know where the ball is going and Tech has so many players capable of running the offense how it needs to be run that a defense can't focus their gameplan on a certain player. Michael Summers is Tech's best receiver, but again, passing, is not the main function of their offense.

Tech won't be hanging 60 on Notre Dame, but I think the difference will be that the Irish won't be able to score enough to keep up. If Zaire were healthy I would go Notre Dame, but while I was impressed with what Kizer did last week, I worry how he will handle the expectations that come with now being the starter and immediately being put into the fire. I think we will see some mistakes and sloppiness, and lots of angry Brian Kelly.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 35, Notre Dame 27

#19 BYU (2-0) at #10 UCLA (2-0)

The Mormons are blessed. How else to explain the Cougars winning their first two games the way they did. Against Nebraska in Week 1, it was a Hail Mary on the final play of the game, and last week against Boise State it was a Hail Mary late that put them ahead and propelled them to another win. QB Tanner Mangum has seemed to develop an instant connection with WR Mitchell Juergens. Juergens went off against the Broncos, turning 4 catches into 172 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. Bruins freshman QB Josh Rosen has been receiving a lot of hype, which got even louder after he torched Virginia in Week 1. He came back to Earth a bit last week against UNLV, and Bruins fans should expect some up and downs for the young player. He is helped by how good the Bruins defense appears to be this season. Teams have only managed 147 passing yards per game so far on UCLA, so the chances of the Cougars hitting a Hail Mary for a third straight week are slim to none. I think most people are expecting this to be a reality check game for BYU, but I actually think they will prove that they are a strong team and give a good showing on the road, even if its not enough for a win.

Prediction: UCLA 24, BYU 17

Last Week: 10-0
Overall: 21-1

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