Week 9 Predictions: The Welcome Back Edition
So, I’ve been away for two weeks. And by away, I mean lazy. You have my apologies. But, I hope you enjoy the return to the routine.
1. Straight Chalk On Top 10
I know how badly you all want some of these to be upsets. Everyone likes a good upset. But I really don’t see it this week. No. 1 Florida beats Georgia because, despite Florida’s offensive woes, they still play stout defense. And Joe Cox just hasn’t been good this year. He has a downright humiliating QB rating of 84.2. That’s because he has had two good games – South Carolina and Arkansas. South Carolina allows an average of 288.9 yards per game and Arkansas allows 419.6. Florida allows 229.6. I don’t think Cox finds what he needs to win against that defense. Florida’s offense, on the other hand, may be able to dig deep and find themselves against a Georgia defense that’s allowing almost 28 points per game.
No. 3 Texas over No. 14 Oklahoma State because I have no reason to believe the Cowboys end the Longhorns’ 11-game winning streak over them without Dez Bryant. According to ESPN.com, Texas hasn’t lost to OK-State since 1997, and they lead the all-time series 21-2.
No. 4 Iowa over Indiana because Iowa’s 8-0, Indiana’s 4-4 and they’re playing in Iowa. Come on.
No. 5 USC is a trendy pick to fall to No. 10 Oregon. I almost had this upset, too, until I realized that USC’s biggest weakness is one that Oregon will find almost impossible to exploit. Four teams have been able to challenge USC this year. I’m throwing out their lone loss to Washington because they were missing their starting QB and any team would be hard-pressed to win on the road under those circumstances. Two of the remaining three had prolific passing attacks. Notre Dame and Oregon State had an average of 307 passing yards against USC. You have to be able to pass well to beat USC. Or you have to be able to play defense like Ohio State. Oregon plays good defense, but not as good as Ohio State. The Buckeyes were in that game despite their rushing offense, which got chewed up and spit out by the Trojans’ defense. Just like Washington State and California did. Those three teams, which thrive on the rushing game, averaged a little over 86 yards against the Trojans. Granted, Oregon rushes better than all those teams. But Oregon can’t pass. In a great departure from the days of Joey Harrington, Oregon and Jeremiah Masoli average 174.9 passing yards per game. I just don’t see an offense that relies that much on rushing beating the Trojans, even at Autzen Stadium.
No. 6 TCU easily beats a UNLV team that’s 3-5 in the MWC.
No. 7 Boise State beats San Jose State because it’s San Jose State and you’re probably surprised to find out they’re even as good as 1-7.
No. 8 Cincinnati beats Syracuse because the Bearcats have a Heisman candidate at QB the Orangemen have a basketball player.
No. 9 LSU beats Tulane because they’re 2-5 and lost 31-10 to Marshall. At home.
2. There’s No Place Like Home In The SEC (Unless You’re Vanderbilt)
For my money, the SEC is the hardest conference to play on the road. Unless you’re Vanderbilt. They lose everywhere. Plus, they’re taking on Georgia Tech, so…good luck with that. At any rate, you can forget all about southern hospitality if you’re in a college city on a Saturday in the fall. I’ve already got Florida beating Georgia in The Swamp. Aside from that matchup…
The Vols have a great chance to stop losing close ones and finally get a good win when South Carolina visits Tennessee this weekend. The Gamecocks epitomize the tradition of great SEC home teams. They are 5-0 at home, but 1-2 on the road (their lone road win a hideous one opening weekend over North Carolina State). Tennessee has had a lot of close calls. They lost to UCLA (by four), to Florida (by 10), to Auburn (by four) and to Alabama (by two). Seems like a home game against a team that struggles on the road is the perfect time to turn that misfortune around.
And, in what may be the most trendy so-called “upset” pick of the week, everyone seems to have Auburn over Mississippi at home. Speaking of which…
3. Game To Watch: No. 25 Mississippi at Auburn
This is honestly the pick I grappled with most this week. I’m intrigued by how these teams match up. Auburn’s defense has been more vulnerable to the run than to the pass. They are holding opponents to 194.6 passing yards but allowing 174 rushing yards per game. And, despite all the hype around Jevan Snead, the running game is really the place to be for the Rebels, who are averaging 169.6 yards per game. The only games Ole Miss has lost this year were the two where they were held to fewer than 160 rushing yards.
Seems the Rebels are perfectly poised for victory, right? Not so fast.
The only thing the Rebels do better than run the ball is cough it up. They are averaging almost two-and-a-half turnovers per game (mostly because of Snead). That’s bad news against Auburn which, despite its deficiencies against the run, really knows how to go out and get the ball back to the offense. The Tigers are forcing almost two turnovers per game. And their wins hinge on the turnovers. They’re 4-0 when forcing at least two turnovers, but 1-3 when forcing fewer than two.
So, it’s all about which can win out. If Ole Miss can run the ball effectively, count on them. If they have problems holding on to it, it’ll be all Auburn. I have the advantage going to Auburn because they’re at home and I think they’re more complete than Ole Miss. But, I’ll be fascinated to see how it plays out.
4. The Running Game: No Problem for West Virginia’s Defense or California’s Offense
I’m also planning on the running game being the difference in the last two picks where Jon and I differed this week. When you look at the scores, it’s surprising how dominant West Virginia has actually been. Granted, against a really weak schedule (77th, according to Jeff Sagarain), but still. They owe their success in great part to their rushing defense, which is holding opponents to 86.3 yards per game. The only teams that have challenged the Mountaineers have been able to pass against them (Auburn with 300 and UConn with 378). Just as with Oregon against USC, South Florida is in a bad position with a QB that doesn’t pass much. B.J. Daniels averages just 171.25 yards passing per game. The Bulls have the best defense WVU has faced since losing to Auburn, but I think the WVU defense wins out in this one and makes it a long Friday night for a suddenly free-falling South Florida.
California’s offense would charitably be described as one-dimensional and unreliable. They lean almost exclusively on RB Jahvid Best, who averages 6.8 yards per carry. Cal is 5-0 this season when he rushes for 100 yards and 10-2 during his career. Best has been easily bottled up by great run defenses this year, leading to Cal’s worst losses. But, that shouldn’t be a problem as they go against Arizona State. The Sun Devils have played pretty good defense most of the year, but they have allowed 336 rushing yards combined in their last two games. Cracks appearing in your rushing defense isn’t what you want to see the two weeks before you go against a back like Best.
5. Penn State on Upset Alert…Yes, Against Northwestern
This is honestly an upset I wanted to call, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. So, Penn State merely receives a warning this week. They’re on notice. Things have to break just right for Northwestern, but there are some pretty compelling numbers to show what could happen in this one. The Nittany Lions have a reputation for tough defense, but they’ve struggled to stop the run in Big 10 play. They are allowing 110 rushing yards per game to Big 10 opponents. In the only game they’ve lost (Iowa) they allowed 163 rushing yards. Northwestern is a team, like Iowa, that could really take advantage of this apparent weakness. The Wildcats haven’t shown a potent offense this year by any means, but they are averaging 156.6 rushing yards in wins. They are averaging just 65 in losses. They are 4-0 when they run for 100 yards, and 1-3 when they rush for less. It’s far from a given that Northwestern can bust loose against Penn State, but if they come ready to run, they could pull off one of the great upsets of the season.