Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cram Session - Week 10

Thursday, November 5

Cleveland (2-6) at Cincinnati (7-0), Cincinnati favored by 10 1/2

I don't have a ton of interest in this game, but Johnny "Football" Manziel will be starting for the injured Josh McCown so that could be somewhat interesting. The Browns came close to trading their all world left tackle Joe Thomas to the Broncos, so when Manziel is getting sacked tonight he can remember that it could have been much worse. Looking ahead for the Bengals, it would be surprising if they aren't 9-0 heading into their newly flexed primetime game in Week 11 at Arizona. Nationally televised night games have been a bit of a bugaboo for Andy Dalton and Cincinnati, including an embarrassing loss at home on Thursday Night Football to Cleveland last season. I think the Bengals flip the script tonight and embarrass and add to the Brows misery.

Prediction: Cincinnati 35, Cleveland 13

Top 10

Thursday, November 5

#6 Baylor (7-0, 4-0) at Kansas State (3-4, 0-4)

This will be the Bears last tuneup game before their schedule kicks into high gear the next three weeks. After they obliterate Kansas State tonight, they next face Oklahoma at home and then travel to Oklahoma State and TCU. That would have already been a difficult challenge, but it was made even harder when starting quarterback Seth Russell was lost for the year due to a neck injury. Freshman Jarrett Stidham is the new starter and now we find out if the Bears offense just hums along like nothing happened, or if the Russell injury is what derails their promising season. This K-State game should at least allow him to get his legs underneath him, get in some sort of rhythm and gain some confidence going into their gauntlet schedule in November.

Prediction: Baylor 45, Kansas State 28

Saturday, November 7

#16 Florida State (7-1, 5-1) at #1 Clemson (8-0, 5-0)

This was the first week that the official College Football Playoff Top 25 was released and Clemson finds themselves at the top of the mountain. Now of course the rankings are merely just discussion fodder at this point and don't matter until after the season concludes but it does show the Tigers that even if they were to lose this game, and it was competitive they could still be in playoff contention. Of course, that isn't the attitude I expect Dabo Swinney or his players to take. Game planning for the Seminoles this week will be a challenge for the Tigers as we don't yet know if Sean Maguire or Everett Golson will get the start for Florida State. Seminoles star RB Dalvin Cook is also questionable, although I would be very surprised if he sits this game out. Cook spurned Clemson in the recruiting process and some Tigers have vowed to make him pay for that decision. Tigers QB Deshaun Watson has been excellent in the Tigers last two games and seems to be past the interception bug that had bit him previous to those games. Cook gets most of the headlines in the ACC but the Tigers also have an excellent running back in Wayne Gallman. These teams are both run heavy and the Seminoles defense has struggled stopping the run more than Clemson's. The last time Florida State was in Death Valley they mauled the Tigers and embarrassed them in primetime. Whether its Maguire or Golson the result will be the same. I expect a competitive, tight game, and as long as Watson doesn't become interception happy, the Tigers to further raise their playoff stock with a signature win.

Prediction: Clemson 28, Florida State 23

#2 LSU (7-0, 4-0) at #4 Alabama (7-1, 4-1)

Right now both these teams are playoff teams but after one of them loses to the other on Saturday I would expect that to change. For Alabama a loss should mean the end of their playoff hopes, although their brand always seems to get raised despite any losses they might have. The game might not be as crucial for LSU, but obviously any loss leaves you open to the subjectivity of the committee. Bama is the more complete team of the two. They can run and pass the ball and their defense is better than the Tigers. So with all that being said this should be a blowout right? As Lee Corso says, not so fast my friend. LSU has the transcendent Leonard Fournette at running back and he has shown that he can lead LSU to victories despite the Tigers having no semblance of a passing game for most of the season. Fournette's lowest rushing output this year was last game's 150 yards against Western Kentucky of all teams. Fournette is good enough to keep LSU in this game, but he alone can't beat a team like Alabama. That means that Tigers QB Brandon Harris will hav eto summon a performance similar to how he has played in his last three games. He has 7 touchdowns in those three games and no interceptions, passing for over 200 yards in each one. If Harris can maintain that level of play, the Tigers of LSU, not Clemson, are the best team in the country. He was able to do it against Florida, which has a stout defense, but that was at home. I'm not convinced he can go into a hostile atmosphere and replicate those performances. I expect Derrick Henry to wear down the Tigers defense, especially late in the game. Fournette will get his but the Tide will force Harris into mistakes, and Bama will quiet some of their playoff critics by knocking off unbeaten LSU.

Prediction: Alabama 22, LSU 19

Minnesota (4-4, 1-3) at #3 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0)

Ohio State will have just one more joke game left on their schedule after they host the Golden Gophers on Saturday. Cardale Jones will be back as the starting quarterback as J.T. Barrett will serve a suspension for this game after his OVI arrest. OVI is basically a DUI in Ohesian. The Golden Gophers had a heartbreaking loss last week at home against Michigan, as poor clock management and hubris doomed them. Interim coach Tracy Claeys got a little too excited and went for the win at the goal line, instead of going with the safer field goal option to take the game to overtime. He won't have to fret over such decisions this week.

Prediction: Ohio State 38, Minnesota 16

#5 Notre Dame (7-1) at Pittsburgh (6-2)

Red zone blunders, something that was a major problem last season, nearly cost Notre Dame at Temple last Saturday. However, DeShone Kizer continued showing his flair for the dramatic and connected with Will Fuller for the game winning touchdown in the closing minutes. This week presents another tough road test in an NFL stadium, when the Irish face Pittsburgh. Pitt had been in the Top 25 as recently as last week before losing to North Carolina. Pitt always finds themselves in close games, seven of their eight games this season have been decided by a touchdown or less. They are a stronger defensive team than they are an offensive juggernaut. That's not to say they don't have some players the Notre Dame defense will have to account for. QB Nathan Peterman hasn't thrown an interception since he threw two at undefeated Iowa in Week 3.  He completes 67% of his passes and while not spectacular, he is solid, sort of like the college version of Alex Smith. His favorite target is easily Tyler Boyd, who leads the Panthers with 63 catches, including 22 in his last two games. Freshman Qadree Ollison has been up and down at running back, as most freshman usually are. Pitt got down big at one point to Carolina last week so he was phased out of the game. However, when the Panthers have been able to establish the run, he has delivered. The Irish have the major edge on offense, but it could be a tough day passing for Kizer against a Panthers defense that gives up just 186 yards passing per game. That makes it imperative that C.J. Prosise doesn't disappear like he did against Temple last week. Prosises was held to just 25 yards on 14 carries and has played very poorly in the Irish's last two road games. I expect a bounce back performance from him this week and I also think Kizer will make things happen with the passing game. The Panthers might be able to spring the upset if Notre Dame can't get Prosise going early. I expect this game to be another tough one for Notre Dame, but if they can scratch out a victory here, they have two easy games at home against Wake Forest and Boston College, before traveling to Stanford to close the season. The top teams are all starting to play each other in this last month and could knock each other out, so if Notre Dame can take care of business, the playoffs are within reach.

Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Pittsburgh 24

#7 Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) at Nebraska (3-6, 1-4)

So when I wanted the Huskers to fire Bo Pelini because he couldn't get Nebraska over the hump, the idea I had was they wouldn't hire a mediocre coach out of Oregon State. I wanted to believe that athletic director Shawn Eichorst knew what he was doing when he hired Riley, but after last week's embarrassing loss at Purdue, it seems pretty clear Riley is in over his head. I remember a time when having to go to Nebraska and try to beat them in Memorial Stadium was a challenge, those were the days. Now, the Spartans probably see this game as merely a speed bump as they head to a battle in Columbus in two weeks. Spartans QB Connor Cook should have a field day against Nebraska's atrocious secondary. Besides their terrible secondary, what has really hurt Nebraska is their inability to establish a rushing attack this season. They can't count on Terrell Newby to do anything so their only hope in this game is Tommy Armstrong protects the football and the Huskers pretty lethal passing attack is able to take over. That will be tough since the Spartans have a pretty stingy pass defense. While a home game doesn't mean much as much anymore, Nebraska at least has remained competitive at home, so I don't think they will roll over and die against Sparty. Plus, Michigan State has shown a habit of struggling to put away bad teams. But I don't think their good enough defensively to pull off the upset and with Rutgers, and Iowa remaining on the schedule, a 4-8 finish to the season seems inevitable.

Prediction: Michigan State 30, Nebraska 21

#8 TCU (8-0, 5-0) at #14 Oklahoma State (8-0, 5-0)

By ranking the Horned Frogs eight, the committee seems to agree with me in how fraudy they think TCU is. Much like Baylor, TCU will have ample opportunity to prove themselves over the next month. TCU has survived three road scares against subpar teams, but this week they have a true road test against unbeaten Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have also beaten no one of note this season, so this game is crucial for them to make their undefeated record actually mean something. Defense will be optional in this game, like it is in most Big 12 matchups, so the game will simply come down to who makes more plays, Trevone Boykin or Mason Rudolph. Rudolph will have to avoid the pick bug. His team was able to overcome his three picks to beat West Virginia a few weeks ago, he throws even one pick in this game, Boykin will promptly march the Horned Frogs down the field and put TCU in control. The other Horned Frog the Pokes have to try to slow down is WR Josh Doctson. Doctson has 14 touchdowns this year and has had two or more touchdowns in six straight games. I've picked against TCU twice and came oh so close to getting it right, maybe the third time will be the charm?

Prediction: Oklahoma State 47, TCU 44

#9 Iowa (8-0, 4-0) at Indiana (4-4, 0-4)

Despite being unbeaten the only prayer Iowa has of reaching the Playoff is to win their remaining games, including the Big Ten championship and hope everyone around them loses. The only ranked team the Hawkeyes have played this year is Northwestern. A win against the Hoosiers will really do nothing to help Iowa, but if the Hoosiers keep the game close it can only hurt the Hawkeyes already suspect reputation. I think that is exactly the scenario that will play itself out on Saturday.

Prediction: Iowa 27, Indiana 23

Vanderbilt (3-5, 1-3) at #10 Florida (7-1, 5-1)

With their win over Georiga last week the Gators locked up the SEC East and have basically guaranteed themselves a place in the SEC Championship game. They can make it official by beating Vanderbilt on Saturday, which they will do easily. Next week at South Carolina is a possible trap game, but besides that, their home game against Florida State is the only true challenge left on Florida's schedule before the SEC Championship. If the Gators take care of business their next four games, they will definitely be playing for a playoff spot when they face the SEC West representative in the championship game. Treon Harris played uneven against Georgia but if Kelvin Taylor continues gashing defenses and the Gators defense remains formidable, Harris simply needs to be adequate.

Prediction: Florida 38, Vanderbilt 9

#11 Stanford (7-1, 6-0) at Colorado (4-5, 1-4)

The Cardinal survived at Washington State, as the Cougars missed a field goal as time expired, giving Stanford their seventh straight victory.  The Buffaloes of Colorado won't be an easy out though for Kevin Hogan and stud RB Christian McCaffrey. The Buffs have a lot of offensive firepower that will test a pretty good Stanford defense. Plus, the early start was dangerous for Stanford in Week 1 at Northwestern and this game will have a 10 AM pacific start for Stanford. I wouldn't be surprised if the Cardinal aren't in another dogfight this week, but I expect them to once again prevail.

Prediction: Stanford 30, Colorado 23

Last Week: 5-1
Overall: 70-18

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