Thursday, September 24, 2015

Cram Session - Week 4

Washington (1-1) at New York Giants (0-2), New York Giants favored by 4

The Redskins surprised their fans, the national media and maybe even themselves with a convincing 24-10 win against St. Louis. Even when Washington got up early I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and the Rams to storm back but it never happened. After two games, the Redskins have the best defense in football. Now the Redskins go on the road for the first time this season, and have to face a Giants team that is desperate for a victory. For the second straight game, the Giants managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, blowing a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter. The Redskins have seemed to develop a running back by committee with last week's emergence of rookie Matt Jones. The Giants also have a running back by committee but that is more because no one has stepped up and taken charge of being the lead sled dog. The difference in this game will likely be how the Redskins defense does against Odell Beckham Jr. When Beckham played the Redskins last season he torched them for three touchdowns. In the past the Redskins have also been torched by Giants TE Larry Donnell. Redskins QB Kirk Cousins also has struggled against the Giants in the past, throwing multiple picks. Past performance can give you an idea into the future but tonight is a whole new game. I believe the Giants, being the more desperate team, will finally persevere at the end of a game and not blow it.

Prediction: New York Giants 23, Washington 20

Games That Matter to Me

Southern Mississippi (2-1) at Nebraska (1-2)

Nebraska finishes up their non-conference scheduled against Southern Mississippi, desperate for a win so they can get back to .500 before starting conference play. The Huskers were dominated for three quarters at Miami last week, before Tommy Armstrong led a stirring comeback, bring Nebraska all way back from a 33-10 deficit. However, on the first play in overtime, Armstrong made a terrible throw that was picked off and then some buffoon on Nebraska made things worse by getting a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Miami barely had to move the ball to kick a field goal and secure the win. The resolve of the Huskers was nice to see, but it was another game where the defense couldn't stop anyone. Also, Armstrong played a big role in getting Nebraska in that hole with two previous interceptions before the one in overtime. RB Terrell Newby didn't get to touch the ball much with the Huskers losing, but did average almost six yards a carry and has cemented himself as the starting running back. Nebraska was victimized both by the the rush and the pass and it is clear the defense has a long way to go to be in a position of helping this team.

Southern Mississippi has showcased their offense the last two weeks, putting up 52 and 56 points. However, those huge outings came against Austin Peay and Texas State so they need to be taken with a grain of salt. The Golden Eagles are just happy to be above .500 right now after how terribly far their program has fallen the past two seasons. QB Nick Mullens likes to air it out, but when facing a more formidable team like Mississippi State, he was turnover prone, throwing two interceptions. RB Jalen Richard ran for 230 yards and 4 touchdowns against Texas State, but again like Mullens, when he played a more talented team, he averaged less than 4 yards per carry. Based on stats, it would seem that the offensive outburst we have seen from Southern Miss will revert back to the norm against Nebraska.

I expect the Huskers offense to have a big day against a leaky Golden Eagles defense, and the defense to struggle at times but also make some turnovers and help the Huskers cruise to a victory.

Prediction: Nebraska 42, Southern Mississippi 24

Top 10

Western Michigan (1-2) at #1 Ohio State (3-0)

The Buckeyes had more trouble than anyone could have ever guessed when they faced Northern Illinois last week. The game came down to the Huskies final series before the Buckeyes were finally able to put them away 30-27. Both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett struggled and Urban Meyer remains unable to settle on a starter. This week, another MAC team comes to the Shoe, this time Western Michigan. The Broncos opened their season hosting Michigan State and only lost by 13, so they should have Ohio State's attention. I can't see Ohio State playing like crap for a second straight week against a MAC team, but they haven't shown anything to convince me it will be a complete obliteration. I expect Barrett to get most of the reps in this game and finally start to entrench himself as the starter.

Prediction: Ohio State 35, Western Michigan 14

Central Michigan (1-2) at #2 Michigan State (3-0)

The Spartans are up to number two in the country, whetting the appetite of fans hoping that both they and the Buckeyes can remain undefeated for their meeting in Columbus in late November. After a tough first game, Spartans QB Connor Cook has played much better and had a dazzling 4 touchdown performance against Air Force last week. The Chippewas have been competitive in their losses this year, and I expect them to give Michigan State fits at times during this game. Sparty should survive though and be perfect heading into the Big Ten schedule.

Prediction: Michigan State 28, Central Michigan 13

#3 TCU (3-0, 0-0) at Texas Tech (3-0, 0-0)

The injury bug has hit the Horned Frogs hard on defense and it has been showing. They gave up 37 points to SMU last week and now face a difficult road test in Lubbock. TCU's wins have not been overly impressive this year, while the Red Raiders did go to Arkansas and knock off the Razorbacks. Texas Tech has the skill players on offense that can give a weakened defense like TCU's fits, and it starts with sophomore QB Patrick Mahomes. Mahonmes has been very accurate so far this year, and last game he completed 26 of 30. However, 2 of those incompletions were interceptions, and when you're trying to upset the #3 team in the country those kind of mistakes can't happen. Defensively, the Red Raiders aren't good so this game may just have to turn into a shootout. I don't expect Texas Tech to slow down Trevone Boykin or really any of the Horned Frogs offense. I think this game will have one of those finishes where it simply comes down to who has the ball last. Sometimes you have to make bold upset picks and I feel this is the spot for one.

Prediction: Texas Tech 42, TCU 37

Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1) at #3 Mississippi (3-0, 1-0)

The Rebels did the unthinkable, going to Alabama and not just beating the Crimson Tide but basically dominating them. The Tide made it interesting late but at different points in the game Ole Miss was leading 30-10 and 43-24. They have some tough games remaining but they should be favored in each of them, so you know Rebels fans are getting excited about their team's national championship prospects. It will be interesting to see how Ole Miss fares against Vanderbilt and if they suffer any sort of letdown. I think the answer to that question will be telling as to how they will fare with heightened expectations the rest of the season.

Prediction: Mississippi 51, Vanderbilt 17

Rice (2-1) at #5 Baylor (2-0)

After a week off the Bears are back at it against an inferior opponent, before beginning their Big 12 schedule next week. Rice is able to put up a lot of points and the Bears defense is easily the team's weakness, so this should at least be a fun game to watch if you like seeing lots of points scored. Bears QB Seth Russell needs to clean up his play a bit though, as he has thrown 4 interceptions in just two games, including three two weeks ago in the win against Lamar. He can get away with those types of things now, but once conference season hits, it could cost the Bears game.

Prediction: Baylor 56, Rice 28

Massachusetts (0-2) at #6 Notre Dame (3-0)

Boy, did I over value how good Georgia Tech was based off a couple of cupcake wins. However, after the haphazard performance Notre Dame had at Virginia, especially on defense, I never would have envisioned them completely dominating the Yellow Jackets offensive attack. For this week's game against the Minutemen, I could probably line up at quarterback and Notre Dame would still win. I am happy to see the Irish schedule a true cupcake for a change. All the other big time schools do it, most of them schedule multiple cupcakes, so why not Notre Dame. RB C.J. Prosise and WR Will Fuller are carrying the Irish offense. All QB DeShone Kizer has to do is throw it up and Fuller comes down with it and makes a huge play. The Irish defense has been hit with the same injury bug the offense has been hit with, but they haven't let that serve as an excuse for lessening their performances. They will really need to be on their toes in a week when Notre Dame travels to Clemson.

I've never seen a second of UMASS football in my life and wasn't even aware they were a Division I program before writing this preview. They are leaving the MAC this year after just four seasons and becoming an independent. They were blown out at Colorado in Week 1, and lost a heartbreaker at home to Temple last week. I bet their kids will be overwhelmed playing at Notre Dame Stadium and I expect a long afternoon for them. Anything less than a blowout win by Notre Dame would be a disappointment, and please, please let no one else be seriously injured.

Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Massachusetts 12

Southern (2-1) at #7 Georgia (3-0)

Georgia has to get through this game with Southern this week before the main event when they host Alabama next week. Southern will give the Bulldogs RB Nick Chubb a chance to pad his stats some more and try to keep up with LSU's Leonard Fournette in the Heisman trophy race.

Prediction: Georgia 49, Southern 16

#8 LSU (2-0) at Syracuse (3-0)

LSU is coming off a resounding victory at home against Auburn, which not only catapulted them into national title contention and put their RB Fournette into the forefront of the Heisman race. Fournette gashed Auburn for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns. Fournette is only a sophomore so LSU can enjoy him for at least one more season after this one. Some prognosticators picked Syracuse to win as few as 1 game this year, but so far they have navigated their schedule with perfection. However, LSU will be a huge step up from Rhode Island, Wake Forest and Central Michigan. The Carrier Dome might have been an intimidating atmosphere for opponents back in the 90s, but LSU won't be phased by it at all.

Prediction: LSU 41, Syracuse 20

#9 UCLA (3-0, 0-0) at #16 Arizona (3-0, 0-0)

The game of the week happens in primetime in Tucson as the Bruins and Wildcats open up their Pac-12 schedule. The difference in this game could down to preparation and by that I mean how each team scheduled their non-conference. Arizona basically has played three cupcakes, while UCLA challenged themselves by hosting BYU and barely escaping. To a lesser extent you could even throw Virginia in there as a tougher scheduled opponent since they are part of the ACC. The quarterbacks will be on display for this game. The Bruins have heralded freshman Josh Rosen but Rosen was pretty awful in the win over BYU, throwing 3 interceptions. To his credit, he did compose himself late in the game and help lead the winning drive. Maybe it has to do with the soft schedule, but Wildcats QB Anu Solomon has played much better than Rosen. Through three games Solomon has 10 touchdowns and no interceptions, and completed 70% of his passes in the last two games. Both teams have talented defenses and the Wildcats are hoping their All-American LB Scooby Wright can return for this game. While he may not be able to have an instant impact on the field when he plays, it would be a great morale booster for the Wildcat team. The Bruins got bad news about a star lineback of their own, as it was announced Myles Jack is out for the season after hurting his knee in practice. I have gone back and forth on my pick for this game, but ultimately, I think Rosen's inexperience will cause him to struggle in a tough atmosphere, and Solomon's steady play will lead Arizona to the mini upset.

Prediction: Arizona 30, UCLA 28

Last Week: 7-3
Overall: 28-4

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