Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cram Session - Week 7

Thursday, October 15

Atlanta (5-0) at New Orleans (1-4), Atlanta favored by 3

In Sunday's win over the Redskins, Matt Ryan was off, but thanks to Devonta Freeman having another big day and their defense, Atlanta remained unbeaten. They now have to turn around and go on the road in a short week against a Saints team that badly needs a new direction. If the Saints end up winning four or five games this year I would be very surprised if Sean Payton and Drew Brees are back next season. The Saints are clearly in need of a total rebuild. They did finally end their home losing streak a few weeks ago against Dallas, but the game was closer than it should have been with all the pieces the Cowboys are missing. Julio Jones has been battling a hamstring injury and hasn't quite looked himself the last two weeks. That being said, Jones at 75% is still one of the best receivers in the league. I expect Ryan to have a far better game this week and I also think Freeman is due for another 100-yard rushing effort against a leaky Saints defense. Brees will keep the Saints in the game, but as has been shown the last two years, he isn't the old Brees that can will them to victories.

Prediction: Atlanta 27, New Orleans 23

Games That Matter To Me

USC (3-2) at #14 Notre Dame (5-1)

It's been quite a week for the Trojans. First their former head coach Steve Sarkisian was asked to take a leave of absence after reportedly showing up drunk to practice. Then a day later, he was fired by Athletic Director and former Notre Dame commentator Pat Haden. Clay Helton is the interim coach and Cody Kessler and the rest of the Trojans will have to try to drown out all the noise and put forth a strong effort under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish handed Navy a 17 point defeat last week, but the score doesn't indicate how close the game was. Navy was right there with the Irish in the first half, but Notre Dame responded strongly to put the game away in the second half. The Irish are looking to avenge an embarrassing loss at USC last year, when Kessler threw 6 TDs against them. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster didn't have any of those last year but if Kessler throws a touchdown in this game it will likely be to Smith-Schuster, who leads the Trojans with 6 TDs. He was held without a touchdown catch for the first time in a game last week in the Trojans loss to Washington. The whole offense played terribly and Notre Dame has to hope that is the USC team that shows up Saturday. Both of these teams struggle defensively and pour on the points and yards offensively, so this game could quickly turn into a track meet. Notre Dame has trouble stopping the run so that could mean a big day is in store for Trojans RB Tre Madden, who burned Washington for 7 yards a carry last week. Irish QB DeShone Kizer will have every opportunity to connect with Will Fuller who got on track against Navy after disappearing against Clemson the week before. C.J. Prosise also got back on track last week after a tough game against Clemson and he should be able to shred the Trojans weak rushing defense. After this game, the Irish have four very winnable games before closing the season at Stanford. An impressive win against USC will go a long way towards keeping Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff discussion.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, USC 24

Nebraska (2-4, 0-2) at Minnesota (4-2, 1-1)

It appeared that Nebraska was finally going to win a close game last week after Wisconsin missed a game winning field goal with less than two minutes left in the game. But the Badgers still had all three of their timeouts and after holding Nebraska to a three and out, they got the ball back and drove down the field, hitting the winning field goal and sending Nebraska to their fourth heartbreaking loss of the season. The only goal left for the Huskers this year is to try to at least win four of their last six games and become bowl eligible. They have three ranked teams left on their schedule so odds are the Huskers will have their first losing season since 2007. When people said Bo Pelini must go they were expecting a much more inspiring hire than old, mediocre Mike Riley. To avoid their third straight loss the Huskers will have to win their first road game of the season, and also end a 2-game losing streak to Minnesota. The Gophers played TCU tough in their opener and have since played pretty mediocre competition, aside from being shut out by Northwestern on the road. The Golden Gophers have very little offense to speak of and rely on their defense to win games. After a strong start to the season Tommy Armstrong Jr. has been terribly inaccurate and ineffective the last two weeks for Nebraska. Since the Huskers don't have a running game that they can count on, Armstrong will have to play much better if Nebraska is to upset Minnesota. I never thought I would be talking about Nebraska needing to upset Minnesota, sigh. When I pick Nebraska to win they lose, so maybe I go with the reverse jinx this week and hope the Huskers finally get back on the winning side of things.

Prediction: Minnesota 27, Nebraska 20

Top 10

Penn State (5-1, 2-0) at #1 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0)

The Buckeyes path to the College Football playoff continues Saturday night when they host Penn State under the lights. The Nittany Lions lost to Temple in the opener, which looked bad at the time, but the Owls are currently undefeated. Since that loss, Penn State has reeled off five straight wins, although none against what would you call stiff competition. The Nittany Lions do have Christian Hackenberg at quarterback, a player that NFL scouts have been drooling over. Hackenberg has decent numbers this year but his last two games have not been very good, as he has barely completed over 50% of his passes. In fact, he has only cleared 200 yards passing in two of his six games this year. The Nittany Lions success has really been because of their defense. They allow just 275.7 yards per game and if they were to pull off the huge upset it would be because of their defense. The Buckeyes had one of their better offensive showings of the season against Maryland last week, but QB Cardale Jones can be turnover prone. The biggest question is can Penn State slow down Ezekiel Elliott? Even if Jones were to struggles, Elliott has shown he can carry the offense on his back. It's clear that Ohio State will struggle at some point this game, as they pretty much have in every game this season. It is also clear that eventually they will make the plays needed to secure victory and remain unbeaten.

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Penn State 20

West Virginia (3-2, 0-2) at #2 Baylor (5-0, 2-0)

There will be tons of fireworks in this one so basically like any other Big 12 game. Neither team plays defense but they both play offense very well. The problem for West Virginia is that Baylor plays offense at a level that no one can come close to matching. The Bears average 725 yards a game, an absolutely insane statistic. They distribute their offense just about evenly, with the passing attack averaging 367 yards a game and the rushing attack averaging 358 yards per game. Their lowest point total this season is 56. The Mountaineers are coming off a tough loss at home to Oklahoma State and a once promising season could really start going off the rails if they drop their third straight game here. I think they will hold Baylor to their lowest point total of the season, the problem is that, I still think the Bears will put up 54 points. The Mountaineers defense is going to have no answers for Bears QB Seth Russell and RB Shock Linwood.

Prediction: Baylor 54, West Virginia 30

#3 TCU (6-0, 3-0) at Iowa State (2-3, 1-1)

The Horned Frogs once again survived by the skin of their teeth on the road against an unranked opponent. They overcame a 35-17 halftime deficit to defeat Kansas State and remain unbeaten. Their time will be up at some point, most likely in two weeks when they travel to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State. Iowa State has sprung upsets at home in the past, but I don't think they have it in them to knock off TCU. Trevone Boykin is going to make plays all over the field, and the Horned Frogs will give up points all over the field but still stake along undefeated.

Prediction: TCU 49, Iowa State 31

Arizona State (4-2, 2-1) at #4 Utah (5-0, 2-0)

The Utes survived a tough home test against previously unbeaten Cal last weekend, and now face another test from the Sun Devils. Arizona State has played really well the last two weeks, after being blown out by USC at home. They handled previously unbeaten UCLA at home, and then blasted Colorado. The Sun Devils have a high powered offense led by QB Mike Bercovici, who is coming off a 5 touchdown performance in the win against Colorado. The Utes won their last game on the back of their defense, which forced six Cal turnovers and picked off NFL prospect Jared Goff five times. They also had a strong game from RB Devontae Booker, which helped overcome a poor performance by QB Travis Wilson. I think the Utes defense will cause Bercovici to make enough mistakes that they will once again survive undefeated by the skin of their teeth.

Prediction: Utah 35, Arizona State 28

#8 Florida (6-0, 4-0) at #6 LSU (5-0, 3-0)

Gator Nation received quite the shock on Monday when it was announced that starting QB Will Grier had been suspended for a year for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. That thrusts Treon Harris back into the starting role he held for the final six games last season. Harris presents a different type of threat than Grier and shouldn't be too far of a downgrade from what Grier was providing them. That being said, he has seen limited action this year, which means the Gator offense might lean more heavily on RB Kelvin Taylor. Taylor has struggled his past two games, failing to reach 100 yards rushing and averaging less than 4 yards a carry. The LSU run defense is pretty stout so it figures to be another tough day for Taylor on Saturday. The Gators defense is top notch as well but even they are probably not capable of containing Tigers RB Leonard Fournette. Fournette's streak of 200+ yard rushing games came to an end last week but he still piled up 158 yards rushing and averaged almost 8 yards a carry. The Tigers average a pathetic 122 yards passing per game, so Fournette is about it offensively. If the Gators can contain him, they will win the game. Easier said than done though, and with the distractions that the Grier suspension brought about this week, I like LSU to squeak out a victory in this battle of unbeatens.

Prediction: LSU 24, Florida 17

#7 Michigan State (6-0, 2-0) at #12 Michigan (5-1, 2-0)

As a 49ers fan, watching Jim Harbaugh instantly turn around Michigan like he instantly turned around the 49ers has been tough. Oh, what could have still been for San Francisco. But the 49ers loss has certainly been the Wolverines gain. Michigan's defense is on an absurd streak of shutting out their opponent three straight games. In five games this season, the Wolverines have allowed 38 points, with 24 of those coming in the opener against Utah. Michigan State has been known for their defense the past few seasons, but their defense isn't what it once was, and they mostly rely on Connor Cook to lead them to victory. Cook has 12 TDs and just 2 INTs this season and has made some big plays in tight games. Most of the Spartans wins have been tight, including against subpar opponents, Purdue and Rutgers. The Spartans are going to have to up their play significantly at the Big House on Sunday to have any chance of "upsetting" the Wolverines. The Spartans best playmaker offensively arguably is WR Aaron Burbridge. Burbridge was the shining star against Rutgers and if Cook is able to get the passing game going in this one, it will be because Burbridge is making plays. Wolverines QB Jake Rudock is serviceable at best and his job basically is to not throw any pick 6's like he did in the opener so the defense can do their thing. I don't think Michigan will have a fourth straight shutout in them but I do believe they will dominate and be the key to Michigan beating the Spartans for just the second time in their last eight meetings.

Prediction: Michigan 21, Michigan State 14

#10 Alabama (5-1, 2-1) at #9 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0)

Another tough road test for the Crimson Tide, but this time Vegas has them favored, so Nick Saban can't have a pity party if they win this game. The Aggies had last week so coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff have had plenty of time to prep for this game. Bama might be wishing they had two weeks to prepare for Aggies quarterback Kyle Allen. Allen has been excellent thus far and is a true duel threat in that he is a good passer and when the opportunity presents itself an advantageous rusher. The big edge Alabama has is their defense is far superior to the Aggies. Alabama allows less than 200 yards passing per game and less than 100 yards rushing. The Aggies will have to work extra hard to the ball in the hands of freshman WR Christian Kirk. I expect the difference maker in this game to be Bama RB Derrick Henry. I think the Bama offensive line will open plenty of holes for him and he will have a rushing day like he did against Georgia a few weeks ago. If Henry can do that then Jake Coker can simply manage the game, which seems to work best for Alabama, because when he presses he throws picks. This game looks like another chance for Alabama to remind everyone that they are the class of the SEC, and I expect another resounding statement similar to what we saw against Georgia.

Prediction: Alabama 37, Texas A&M 24

Last Week: 8-3
Overall: 51-12

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