Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cram Session - Week 5

Baltimore (0-3) at Pittsburgh (2-1), Baltimore favored by 2 1/2

Desperate times for the Ravens tonight, as they look for their first victory of the season. They already trail the Bengals by three games in the AFC North and have a loss to them. This game would likely be a loss too, had Ben Roethlisberger not gotten injured last Sunday in the Steelers win at St. Louis. Mike Vick makes his season debut as the starter tonight. However, those expecting to see Vick running past defenders and making crazy plays haven't been paying attention the last few seasons. Vick is a shell of his former self. He is adequate, but that is about it. He will be helped out by the various offensive stars that surround him on the Steelers, including Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Bryant. The Ravens will have to pay extra attention to Bryant, especially after they were gashed by A.J. Green last week. The Ravens have been competitive in every game but oddly they aren't making the necessary plays late in games. You expect to see that from a team not used to winning, rather than a perennial contender such as the Ravens. The Ravens are too good to keep losing and have too good of a coach in John Harbaugh to be a sad sack team. With the Steelers missing their most important player, they are ripe for the picking.

Prediction: Baltimore 18, Pittsburgh 16

Games That Matter to Me

Nebraska (2-2, 0-0) at Illinois (3-1, 0-0)

The Huskers seemed to be cruising to victory against Southern Mississippi last week, and then the defense collapsed and almost gagged the game away. The defense has been atrocious all season and it is obvious that Bo Pelini left the cupboard pretty bare on that side of the ball. The passing defense has been really susceptible and can't stop anyone and is dead last in the NCAA. The offense has performed well, especially QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. but once again the rushing attack was uneven and inconsistent in last week's win. The Huskers now have to try to get their first road victory of the season as they open their Big Ten schedule against Illinois. The Illini have a winning record but its deceptive. Their three wins have come against crap teams, they were blasted by North Carolina, and barely beat Middle Tennessee State at home last week. QB Wes Lunt has struggled in recent weeks and is probably being asked to throw the ball too much as evidenced by his less than 60% completion percentage in three of four games this season. However, with how bad the Huskers pass defense has been, he is probably due for his best game of the season on Saturday. The Nebraska run defense has been better, currently 11th in the nation, but that is partially because teams don't feel the need to run on them. Illinois gives up 4 yards a carry, so I think Terrell Newby should have a stronger game if the Huskers commit to the run. Armstrong should have another good performance, he just needs to avoid interceptions, which have sort of plagued him throughout the year. He has very good receivers in Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly, and Alonzo Moore, and they are all capable of making big plays. I expect another uneven performance by Nebraska but they are a more talented team than Illinois and it would be a really dreadful sign if they can't beat them.

Prediction: Nebraska 35, Illinois 24

Top 10

#1 Ohio State (4-0, 0-0) at Indiana (4-0, 0-0)

Urban Meyer finally has settled on Cardale Jones as his starting quarterback. I ended up being wrong twice, as I kept thinking J.T. Barrett would win out because of his larger body of work, but Urbs is all about Cardale. The Buckeyes have struggled with inferior opponents and if their minds aren't right the Hoosiers could be harder to put away than most would expect. The Hoosiers have some talented players at the skill positions including QB Nate Sudfeld as well as RB Jordan Howard and I think they will be able to make some plays offensively against the stout Buckeyes defense. I think the Hoosiers can keep it close for the first half, but then Ezekiel Elliott is going to ram it down the throats of their defense and the Buckeyes will cruise to victory.

Prediction: Ohio State 41, Indiana 24

Purdue (1-3, 0-0) at #2 Michigan State (4-0, 0-0)

You could forgive the Spartans if they are looking past their next two games and starting to think about traveling to Ann Arbor to take on the Wolverines in two weeks. Until then, QB Connor Cook should be able to pad his stats and Heisman resume and the Spartans will be looking to avoid losing any key players to major injuries. The Boilermakers are terrible and I would be surprised if this game isn't over after the first quarter.

Prediction: Michigan State 45, Purdue 13

#3 Mississippi (4-0, 2-0) at #25 Florida (4-0, 2-0)

For the first time in years it feels like there is hope in Gainesville. The Gators are coming off a stirring victory at home against Tennessee, when they overcame a late 4th quarter deficit to pull off the shocking win. Ole Miss seemed to have a bit of a hangover after their win at Alabama and struggled to put Vanderbilt away last week. Now the Rebels face another tough SEC road test but one thing I can say for sure is they won't be overwhelmed by the atmosphere. QB Chad Kelly struggled last week and while he could get away with that versus the Commodores he will need to be much sharper against Florida. He will have his challenges versus Florida as during the Gators struggles the past few years, it hasn't been defense that has been an issue. One of the reasons Florida is 4-0 this year is that the offense is playing much better, led by QB Will Grier. Grier doesn't have eye popping stats but he plays the position smartly and doesn't put the Gators defense in bad spots with stupid turnovers. However, QB Treon Harris is returning from suspension and coach Jim McElwain intimated that he could start a quarterback rotation. In my opinion that is the worst thing he could do, as it will stifle the growth and momentum Grier has been building. RB Kelvin Taylor is famous for two reason, one he is Fred Taylor's son and second he was dressed down on national television by coach McElwain. He has overcome the public humiliation from McElwain though to earn back his starting job and he was instrumental in the win against the Volunteers. I think McElwain has the Gators on the right trajectory but I don't think they are at a point quite yet where they can knock off a Top 5 time. They will give the Rebels a hell of a game, but I expect the Rebels offense to make enough plays and scrape by with the win.

Prediction: Mississippi 27, Florida 23

Texas (1-3, 0-1) at #4 TCU (4-0, 1-0)

Texas has found some excruciating ways to gag away games the last two weeks to California and Oklahoma State. The good news for them this week is that I don't expect them to be anywhere close to winning late in the game at TCU. The Horned Frogs had a miracle ending of their own, except unlike Texas, they had the ball bounce their way. Trailing at Texas Tech late, TCU was able to catch a deflection in the end zone with just 21 seconds remaining to seal the victory. I don't think the Horned Frogs are a real playoff contender because their defense is atrocious but they will win a lot more games this year because of what QB Trevone Boykin brings to the table. It will be interesting to see how long Longhorn fans remain patient with Charlie Strong. After they lose this game on Saturday they will be 1-4 and looking at the rest of their schedule, I would be shocked if they get to 6 wins and a bowl game.

Prediction: TCU 52, Texas 31

Texas Tech (3-1, 0-1) at #5 Baylor (3-0, 0-0)

For the first time all year we will finally get to see Baylor against some decent competition. In three games versus patsies the Bears have averaged an NCAA best 64 points per game and QB Seth Russell has already thrown 15 touchdowns. The Red Raiders will be a step up in competition but only offensively. The Red Raiders and really the Big 12 in general do not believe in defense and I expect this game to follow a similar script to Texas Tech/TCU. The big difference though is that the Red Raiders are on the road for this win, so despite a valiant effort, I think they will have been disposed of long before any late game heartbreak can happen.

Prediction: Baylor 55, Texas Tech 41

#6 Notre Dame (4-0) at #12 Clemson (3-0)

It will be a hell of an atmosphere in Death Valley Saturday night when these teams meet and one tries to push themselves clearly into the Playoff discussion. The Irish have battled injuries all season but their record remains unblemished. It could be argued they haven't beaten any good teams as of yet, as that Georgia Tech win has lost some shine after the Yellow Jackets lost to Duke last week. Clemson hasn't beaten anyone good yet either though, and nearly lost to an underwhelming Louisville team on the road a couple weeks ago. The Tigers had off last week so they have had plenty of time to study up on Irish QB DeShone Kizer. In his two starts Kizer has done a good job of playing within himself and trusting his teammates to help him make plays. He hasn't tried to do anything too unnecessary and facing the type of atmosphere he will Saturday night, he needs to keep that mindset. If I am Brian Kelly my game plan is all about feeding C.J. Prosise. Prosise has averaged over 9 yards a carry in his last three games and appears to be unstoppable. If the Irish can establish Prosise early that will help the Irish manage the problems the Tigers crowd will bring on the offense. That will also open up play action and then you can hit Will Fuller deep. Fuller was held under 100 yards receiving for the first time last week but still averaged 14 yards a catch. The Irish defense will need to have their heads on a swivel trying to defense Tigers QB Deshaun Watson. Watson doesn't use his legs to make plays as much as people might think, but the threat is one that defenses need to be aware of. Watson is an accurate passer but he does press at times, so the Irish defense will have a chance to create some turnovers. Tigers RB Wayne Gallman has gotten better each game this season and the Irish rush defense was not very good against UMASS last weekend. This is a really tough game to predict, as I feel like we won't really know too much about each team until after they play each other. I do think they are pretty evenly matched squads, so I have to lean to the homefield advantage Clemson will enjoy. It is crucial for Notre Dame that they don't fall behind early or things will get very ugly. I think this game will mirror the Irish's game at Florida State last year, right down to the heartbreaking ending.

Prediction: Clemson 31, Notre Dame 28

Arizona State (2-2, 0-1) at #7 UCLA (4-0, 1-0)

The Sun Devils are on the verge of having their season go off the rails after being blasted at home by USC last week. They face an even better team this week in UCLA. I picked the Bruins to fall on the road at Arizona last week and boy was I wrong. After some shaky efforts, freshman QB Josh Rosen was back to playing up to the hype that preceded him. With Oregon being completely terrible this year, it appears that the Bruins are fighting the Utes to be the class of the Pac-12 this season. UCLA's run defense was not very good last week and that is something the Sun Devils will look to expose in this game. I don't expect UCLA to look as good as they did last week or the Sun Devils to look as bad as they did, leading to a game a little closer than most would expect.

Prediction: UCLA 38, Arizona State 28

#13 Alabama (3-1, 0-1) at #8 Georgia (4-0, 2-0)

A big deal is being made out of the fact that Georgia are favorites over mighty Bama. I am not really sure why, it seems reasonable to me. The game is in Athens and Alabama doesn't appear to be nearly as mighty as we have seen them be in recent years. We don't know a ton about Georgia either. They haven't played anyone that I would call good. What we do know is that the Bama defense will have their hands full with Bulldogs RB Nick Chubb. QB Greyson Lambert has also been very good, throwing zero interceptions through four games and having an absurd completion percentage in his last two games. He has completed 33 of 35 passes, throwing just one incompletion in each game. You have to figure that hot streak won't continue, but the Bama defense can be carved up by evidence of what Ole Miss did to them. I don't expect Lambert to be the focal point though, Georgia will try to pound the rock with Chubb, much like Alabama will try to pound things with RB Derrick Henry, who already has 8 rushing touchdowns this season. QB Jake Coker has struggled at times this season and I think that is mostly because Alabama is lacking a big play option at the receiver position. This is a huge game for Georgia coach Mark Richt and the Georgia program as a whole. They have always been on the precipice of being a true championship contender but never able to take that next step. If they can't beat Alabama in what is sort of a down year for the Tide, then maybe a championship run will never happen as long as Richt is coach. I believe in trends and the recent trends tell me that Bama will be up to the challenge on the road, and the Dogs can't be trusted in a big spot.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Georgia 24

Eastern Michigan (1-3) at #9 LSU (3-0)

The only reason to pay attention to this game is to find out if Leonard Fournette can run for over 200 yards for a third straight week. If he does not, the only reason would likely be that Les Miles pulled him from the game early to avoid injury since it had gotten out of hand.

Prediction: LSU 49, Eastern Michigan 14

Last Week: 8-2
Overall: 36-6

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