Week 4 picks

The Augusta Chronicle

A second straight 4-3 week moves me to 10-11 on the year with my college football picks. Like I said last weekend’s slate of games didn’t look that appealing on paper, but it was a heck of a football weekend.

This weekend’s schedule should leave us more satisfied than the double-brisket cheeseburger with slab bacon and a fired egg I had on Sunday at Big Tex in Decatur.

No. 5 Auburn (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 20 Kansas State (2-0, 1-0 Big 12)- Thursday 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN: Auburn is the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to come into the Little Apple since second-ranked Penn State defeated Kansas State 17-14 in 1969.

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Through two games the big cats are averaging 43.5 (KSU) and 52 points (AU) per game. Kansas State has done it with a balanced attack as quarterback Jake Waters has thrown for 462 yards and two scores, while running for 193 yards and four TDs.

Auburn’s bread and butter is its rushing attack. The Tigers average 330 yards per game on the ground (sixth best in the NCAA) and 6.7 yards per attempt. Senior Cameron Artis-Payne leads the way with 289 yards and four touchdowns. Nick Marshall has been lethal at quarterback with 122 yards rushing, including a 50-yard TD run against San Jose State, and 151 yards passing.

The passing game will get a boost as Sammie Coates is predicted to return against KSU.

Both teams are giving up over 300 yards of total offense per game, but both have five sacks through two games. Elijah Lee has 2.5 for KSU, and Montravious Adams has a sack to go with four tackles for loss for Auburn. The Tigers will be without suspended safety Jermaine Whitehead, who leads the team with two interceptions.

Prediction: Auburn is a 7.5-point favorite on the road in this one. I think Kansas State is a solid team, and you can never count Bill Snyder out of it, but Auburn is just too good on offense. The Tigers win 42-31.

Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0, 1-0 ACC)- Noon ET on ESPNU: Wake up and get ready for some physical football in this one. Iowa is coming off a 20-17 loss to Iowa State, while the Panthers have been able to run away from everyone on their schedule thus far.

Pitt is averaging 344.3 yards per game (fourth best in the country) on the ground, with an average of 6.4 yards per attempt. The Hawkeyes are giving up just 65.7 yards per game on the ground.

Every game has been a grind for Iowa, including its opener against Northern Iowa. Despite Jake Ruddock playing well at quarterback, the Hawkeyes are averaging just 21.7 points per game this year.

Prediction: The Panthers are favored by a touchdown at home. I think that’s about right and I’m going with a 24-13 win for Pitt over Iowa.

Florida (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 3 Alabama- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS: Florida escaped Kentucky in triple overtime last weekend to remain unbeaten heading into Saturday.

Alabama’s offense has cruised, scoring at least 33 points in every game this season, including 52 last week against Southern Miss. Blake Sims continues to be the team’s starter, with 646 yards passing and four TDs, but Jacob Coker has shown flashes during his playing time with 248 yards passing and a TD.

It doesn’t matter who throws it though, because Amari Cooper will catch it. The Miami native has 33 catches for 454 yards and two TDs this year.

He’ll face his toughest match-up of the year on Saturday in Vernon Hargraves III, who is credited with five pass-break ups already this year, and has allowed just one reception per ESPN Stats and Info. Cooper is going to get receptions, but if Hargraves can eliminate the big play in the passing game it could give Florida’s front seven a chance to slow down ‘Bama’s rushing attack.

The Crimson Tide average 6.2 yards per carry on the ground, while Florida has allowed just 2.4 yards per rush. Dante Fowler has been a big part of the Gators’ defensive success with nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

Prediction: Florida didn’t look very good against Kentucky, which has prompted Vegas to make Alabama a 14.5-point favorite at home. I think the Gators’ defense will have some success against Alabama early, but will eventually get worn down because I don’t expect the Florida offense to do much against the Crimson Tide (even with a struggling secondary). I think Alabama wins 27-10.

North Carolina (2-0) at East Carolina (2-1)- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU: If it wasn’t for a handful of missed opportunities against South Carolina, the Pirates could have been 3-0 with a win over a pair of ranked opponents entering Saturday’s clash with UNC. Instead ECU has just one win over a ranked opponent, after hanging on last weekend on the road for a 28-21 win over Virginia Tech.

UNC dropped out of the polls after struggling with San Diego State two weeks ago.

ECU can put up points, and has a legitimate star in quarterback Shan Carden. The Texan has thrown for 1,031 yards already this year and ran for the game-winner last weekend against the Hokies.

UNC can also score, averaging 43.5 points per game, but the Tar Heels gave up 509 yards of total offense against SDSU in a 31-27 win.

Prediction: ECU is a three-point favorite and the Purple Pirates certainly have all the momentum entering this one. That’s why I’m going with UNC. The Tar Heels win this one 42-38.

Mississippi State (3-0) at No. 8 LSU (3-0)- Saturday 7 pm. ET on ESPN: The good news for Mississippi State is they started the year off with three straight wins.

The bad news is Saturday’s SEC opener in Baton Rouge, La. is the first of three-straight games against Top-1o SEC West foes.

After an impressive comeback win over Wisconsin to start the year, LSU hasn’t allowed another point this year in wins over Sam Houston and Louisiana-Monroe. The Tigers have a heck of rushing attack, averaging 226.3 yards per game on the ground.

The Bulldogs have been balanced on offense with an average of 266.3 yards passing and 260.3 yards rushing per game. If they’re going to have a chance against LSU they’ll have to show more than short screens in the passing game to move the ball.

Prediction: LSU is favored by 9.5 points. I don’t think Mississippi State is ready for the Tigers and LSU wins 24-7.

No. 4 Oklahoma (3-0) at West Virginia (2-1)- Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX: This will be the second top-four opponent for the Mountaineers in 2014.

West Virgina rode Clint Trickett’s arm to a 40-37 victory last weekend against Maryland. Trickett threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns.

The Sooners made quick work of Tennessee in a 34-10 victory.

West Virgina is averaging 410 yard passing per game (fifth best in the country) this year, but they haven’t faced a defense as explosive as Oklahoma’s (yeah I said it ‘Bama). OU has six interceptions and nine sacks this year, while giving up just 295.3 yards of total offense per game.

Prediction: I guess because they’re on the road and it’s the Big 12 OU is favored by just 7.5 in this one. While Trickett will be able to put some points up for the home team, I just don’t see West Virginia holding Trevor Knight back at all. Another big win for OU  35-21.

No. 22 Clemson (1-1) at No. 1 Florida State (2-0)- Saturday 8 p.m. ET on ABC: This game has taken on some added intrigue with Jameis Winston being suspended for the first half after failing to realize that he truly does live in a bubble and even the slightest misstep will bring scrutiny and embarrassment to Florida State.

Independent Mail.

Sean Maguire will lead the Seminoles’ offense as Winston is on the sidelines. The redshirt sophomore is just 3 of 5 passing this year for 28 yards, but he did attempt 21 passes last season as the third-string QB. Head coach Jimbo Fisher won’t be afraid to let Maguire take his shots against Clemson, but he’ll also rely heavily on a rushing attack that’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry with a senior offensive line.

Clemson will also likely play two QBs in the game. Senior Cole Stoudt is the starter, but freshman DeShaun Watson has come on fast and could unseat the veteran as the starter by the end of the season.

Clemson gave up 45 points to Georgia in its opener, with 21 points coming in the fourth quarter. If the offense can have some success early against an FSU defense that allows just 4.9 yards per play this year, then Clemson has the athletes on defense to make Maguire uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing- Jimbo Fisher has owned Clemson since arriving in Tallahassee. As the offensive coordinator and the head coach (he still calls the plays), FSU has scored an average of 35 points per game in the seven games, and scored at least 30 points the in the last three, including last year’s 51-14 smack-down.

Prediction: Even with Winston suspended for a half, FSU is still favored by 16.5 points at home. Fisher will put up points on Clemson, but I don’t know if the Seminoles’ defense is 17-points better than Clemson this year. I think FSU makes it 19-straight wins with a 28-24 victory.

Week 1 Picks

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College Football is upon us once again. While the debut of Georgia State as a Fun Belt team was mere morsel of an appetizer,  Thursday it’s time to feast my friends.

There is a heck of a slate of games this weekend, beginning with 14 games on Thursday. I’m picking my top seven match-ups as I’ll do every week throughout the season (unless my honey-do list gets too long at home).

No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 9 South Carolina- 6p.m. ET on SEC Network: The Aggies begin life without Johnny Manziel, and South Carolina looks to find an identity on defense after Jadeveon Clowney. South Carolina has won 17 straight games at home, and Steve Spurrier is 23-1 all-time in openers as a college coach.

The Augusta Chronicle

Sophomore Kenny Hill is the new Texas A&M quarterback. He attempted just 22 passes last season, but Kevin Sumlin has been able to put up big numbers no matter who his signal caller is. South Carolina also has a new starting QB in Dylan Thompson. Unlike Hill, Thompson has plenty of experience, including playing in 10 games last year as he completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 783 yards and four touchdowns.

Last year the Aggies showed no desire in playing defense against anyone giving up 32.2 points per game and an average of 475.8  yards per game. With an offense that features running back Mike Davis, who averaged 5.8 yards per carry en route to a 1,183-yard season, I think the Gamecocks take this one pretty easily.

Prediction: Most Las Vegas books have South Carolina as a 10.5-point favorite. I’m going with South Carolina 45, Texas A&M 24.

Boise State vs. No. 18 Ole Miss- 8 p.m. ET on ESPN: Chris Petersen is gone. The BCS is gone. Thus it will be a long time before Boise State is able to prove to they truly are more than just a flash in the pan in the world of college football. A win over an up-and-coming SEC team would be a good start.

Ole Miss is favored by 11 in most books. That’s largely in part due to the fact that they’re led by senior quarterback Bo Wallace, who threw for 3,346 yards last season. Boise signal caller Grant Hedrick takes over full-time after splitting time with Joe Southwick last year.

The Rebels have a distinct advantage on defense with nine starters returning. Even though Boise State’s 6-2 record against ranked opponents since 2009 is an interesting tidbit, I don’t think this group of Broncos can hang.

Prediction: Look for Ole Miss and head coach Hugh Freeze to make statement in his third season opener. Ole Miss wins 28-14.

West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama- 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN2: This game has an interesting sub-plot. Projected starting quarterbacks Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker were teammates at Florida State in 2012, before Trickett went to West Virginia last year and Coker enrolled at Alabama this summer.

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Trickett has further taken the storyline off the field by telling reporters that his first kiss was actually Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s daughter when they were six.

As far as Vegas is concerned off the field stories are the only intriguing aspects of this Chic-fil-A Kickoff game, with the Crimson Tide as a 27-point favorite.

The Mountaineers spread offense will be a good test for an Alabama secondary that wasn’t up to Saban’s lofty standards a year ago.

Prediction: I think Alabama is one of the best teams in the country, but I’m thinking West Virginia will cover here. I’m going Alabama 35, West Virginia 17.

Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn- 4 p.m. ET on SEC Network: This is a game that Vegas really wants you to put your money on. Auburn starting quarterback Nick Marshall won’t start the game, and no one knows if he’ll play at all thanks to a marijuana citation this off-season.

The Tigers are a 19.5 favorite despite Marshall’s suspension, because Vegas wants you to bet on the Razorbacks. But don’t fall for it. Auburn’s No. 2 QB Jeremy Johnson can play. He was a four-star prospect out of Montgomery, Ala. and was named Mr. Football as a senior.

Arkansas has won three of its last four trips to Jordan-Hare Stadium, but I don’t have much faith in a fourth victory.

Prediction: I think Auburn wins this one in a boat race. I’m taking the Tigers 42-20.

No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia- 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN: This was an awesome game last year, with two veteran quarterbacks battling it out as Clemson held on for a 38-35 win.

This year it looks like another great match-up, just with a pair of inexperienced QBs this time around. Georgia will start senior Hutson Mason who has waited his turn the last three years behind Aaron Murray. Clemson will also go with a senior to start year in Cole Stoudt, but true freshman Deshaun Watson could also see time this season.

Clemson’s defense has the edge in this one with Vic Beasley one of a handful of veteran defenders who returned, but UGA has the X-factor with Todd Gurley.

Prediction: Georgia is favored by 7.5 in this one. I think that the Bulldogs win, but in another thriller 27-21 over Clemson.

No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State- 8p.m. ET on ABC: Jimbo Fisher wants his team to display an attitude of dominance in 2014. Dominance is what Vegas expects in this one with FSU favored by 18.5 points.

The Seminoles are loaded again, and the big stage in Dallas will be nothing new to them. Oklahoma State returns just 10 total starters on offense and defense from a team that appeared in the Cotton Bowl last year.

Prediction: FSU rolls in this one I think. I’m taking the Seminoles 42-16 over the Cowboys.

No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU: This all smash-mouth football fan could ask for. Two big physical teams, with a pair of the best running backs in the country.

Madison.com

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon ran for 1,609 yards last year and is considered by some to be a darkhorse Heisman candidate. LSU’s top tailback is a 6-foot-1, 224-pound freshman named Leonard Fournette, who has Jameis Winston-hype around him as he makes his collegiate debut in Houston on Saturday.

LSU will rotate quarterbacks with both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris both expected to play. Wisconsin will start Tanner McEvoy, who played safety for the Badgers last year. McEvoy brings a dual-threat element to the quarterback position that could make Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing attack even tougher to defend.

LSU is a five-point favorite in this one, and I think the Tigers athletes on defense get them by the Badgers.

Prediction: I’m going with LSU 21, Wisconsin 14.

My Football Final Four Picks

For the first time ever, college football will have its very own playoff this season. A 13-member selection committee will pick the top four teams in all the land to compete in semifinal games in the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl.

The two winners will advance to the National Championship game in Dallas on January 12.

Now here’s the hard part, picking those final four teams before a single down has been played. Here are my predicted top four, with a few other teams who could make the committee ponder a little harder.

1. Florida State (2013- 14-0, National Champions): There’s no question who everyone’s number one is. The defending national champions (yeah I said defending Jimbo) are the most talented team in the country, and Jameis Winston is right at the center of that talent.

AP Photo/ Phil Sears

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner will have to establish a second target at wideout, but he returns senior Rashad Greene (76 catches, nine TDs and 1128 yards) and tight end Nick O’Leary (33 catches, seven TDs and 557 yards). FSU also returns four of five starters along the offensive line.

Defensively replacing Telvin Smith, Timmy Jernigan and Lamarcus Joyner will be no easy task, but the cupboard is far from bare for new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. As long as Jalen Ramsey and Mario Edwards Jr. stay healthy, the Seminoles have plenty of athletes to overcome the inexperience on that side of the ball.

FSU does have a beefed-up non-conference schedule with the Cowboys Kickoff Classic against Oklahoma State on Saturday, a visit from Notre Dame on October 18 and its annual clash with Florida in Tallahassee on November 29.

The Biggest ACC games will be Clemson on September 20, but like Notre Dame and Florida the Tigers have to travel to Doak Campbell Stadium. The glaring ‘trap-game’ on the Seminoles’ schedule looks to be a Thursday night visit to Bobby Petrino and Louisville on October 30.

2. Alabama (2013- 11-2, 7-1 SEC): The Crimson Tide finished last year with two straight losses, lost eight players to the NFL, including quarterback A.J. McCarron, yet I don’t think anyone will argue that Alabama is again one of the best teams in the nation.

AP Photo/ Butch Dill

Physically Jacob Coker is an upgrade from McCarron under center, but the question that needs to be answered is if the Mobile, Ala. native is ready mentally to be Alabama’s quarterback. Coker still hasn’t been named the starter over senior Blake Sims, but all indications from Tuscaloosa are that he will.

New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has plenty of weapons for either QB to utilize. Amari Cooper (45 receptions, four TDs and 736 yards) is fully healthy, and the dynamic duo of running backs T.J. Yeldon (1279 yards rushing, 12 TDs) and Derrick Henry (394 yards rushing and three TDs) will provide plenty of power on the ground.

The secondary was Alabama’s biggest chink in the armor last year (OK that and it’s field goal coverage unit), but a year to marinate and work with DB-whispers Nick Saban and Kirby Smart should make that a much-improved unit. Alabama also has the preferred cure to any ailing secondary, a massive defensive front. Senior nose tackle Brandon Ivory weighs in at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds. Defensive ends Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan are both over 290 pounds, while sophomore A’Shawn Robinson checks in at a measly 6-foot-4 320 pounds.

An SEC West schedule is never a favorable one, but Alabama gets three very big games at home this year, Florida on September 20, Texas A&M October 18 and Auburn on November 29. The Crimson Tide will have to travel to LSU on November 8, and like every year that game could determine the division and league champion.

3. Oklahoma (2013- 11-2, Big 12 Champions): Trevor Knight- not a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl- is the reason for all the Sooners’ preseason love. Yes the fact that Knight’s ah-hah moment happened to come against a team of Alabama’s caliber didn’t slow the hype train.

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Knight’s athleticism and development has forced senior Blake Bell to switch to tight end, and given Bob Stoops and company and extra bounce in their step around Norman, Okla. The Sooners return four starters up front on offense, and nine defensive starters.

Last year Oklahoma was susceptible to the run, but if the boys up front hold their position, linebacker Eric Striker (50 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks) is as good as they come in one-on-one match-ups.

The Sooners will be tested in the third week of the season as Tennessee comes to town on September 13. They then have to turn around and travel to West Virginia the following week.

Oklahoma travels to Texas Tech (November 15) and TCU (October 4), but they host Baylor on November 8 and Oklahoma State December 6. The Red-River Rivalry will take place as always in Dallas on October 11, but with Charlie Strong cleaning house in Austin it looks like the Longhorns won’t be able to catch OU by surprise like they did in last year’s 36-20 thrashing.

4. Michigan State (2013- 13-1, BIG Ten Champions): Speaking of teams who finished 2013 with momentum, the Spartans went 8-0 in the BIG Ten, defeated Ohio State 34-24 in the championship game and took down Stanford 24-20 in the Rose Bowl. All without much offensive firepower… to put it kindly.

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Quarterback Connor Cook showed he can make plays when called upon in the wins over Ohio State and Stanford, but Michigan will rely heavily on running back Jermey Langord (1422 yards and 18 TDs) for its offensive firepower. Cook returns his top target in Tony Lippet (44 catches, two TDs and 613 yards), but Sparty will have to replace three starters along the offensive line.

Week two will go a long way towards determining if Michigan State will be one the last four standing as it travels to Eugene, Orgeon to take on the Ducks. Oregon has struggled with physical defensive fronts like Michigan State in the past, but they’ve never had as polished a passer as Marcus Mariotta before. It may just be week two, but if Oklahoma and FSU go unblemished (Even if they have one loss the SEC champ will get in), then the September 6 match-up could turn out to be an elimination game for a playoff spot.

After the trip out west Michigan State hosts its three toughest opponents the rest of the way with Nebraska (October 4), Michigan (October 25) and Ohio State (November 8) all coming to East Lansing. Michigan State misses Wisconsin in the regular season, but the two could meet in the conference title game.

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Oregon (2013- 11-7, 7-2 Pac-12): Like I said the week two match-up is almost an elimination game for Michigan State and Oregon, so if the Ducks win they’re in great position to make the playoff. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the best player in the country not named Jameis Winston or Todd Gurley.

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Oregon not only hosts Sparty, but they also get Stanford (November 1) and Washington (October 18) at home. Even if Oregon loses to Michigan State, if it beats Stanford, UCLA on the road (October 11) and wins the PAC-12 then the Ducks likely would be in the final four, unless the others go unbeaten.

Ohio State (2013- 12-2, 8-0 BIG Ten): Certainly without Miller the Buckeyes have a large uphill battle ahead of them in 2014, but the good news is that Ohio State still has more talent at the skill positions than the rest of the conference.  New signal caller, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was four-star recruit in high school despite tearing his ACL his senior season. Urban Meyer’s new athletic defensive front will get a challenge right out of the gate with a trip to Baltimore on Saturday to face Navy’s triple option. Things don’t get much easier for OSU in the non-conference schedule with visits from Virgina Tech (September 6) and Cincinnati (September 27). An offensive line with four new starters and an inexperienced quarterback are why I don’t anticipate the Buckeyes getting by Michigan State in the BIG Ten.

Auburn (2013- 12-2, SEC Champions): The Tigers schedule are the reason I went with Alabama in the SEC. Auburn travels to Kansas State (September 18), Georgia (November 15) and Alabama this season, while hosting LSU (October 4) and South Carolina (October 25). The Tigers will have one thing in 2014 that has been sparse in recent seasons at Jordan-Hare- continuity. Nick Marshall is the first returning QB Gus Malzahn has had in his nine-year college coaching tenure, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will be the first Auburn DC to return for a second season in three years.

Clemson (2013- 11-2, 7-1 ACC): If Clemson gets by Georgia on Saturday the Tigers have a favorable schedule. Clemson does travel to FSU, but they host Louisville (October 11), N.C. State (October 4) and South Carolina (November 29). It will be tough with a new quarterback, but if Dabo Swinney can defeat UGA again and finally beat South Carolina, then the Tigers deserve to be in the discussion as long as their only loss is at FSU.

Chad Morris wants Clemson QBs to be hit this spring

Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer

Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer

The chief objective for the Clemson Tigers this spring is to find a new starting quarterback with the graduation of Tajh Boyd.

Right now it’s a three-man race between Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson.

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Stoudt appeared in eight games for the Tigers last season, completing 47 of 59 pass attempts for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Kelly played in five games, completing 10 of 17 pass attempts for 58 yards.

Watson is a true-freshman early-enrollee. The five-star from Gainesville, Ga. was ranked the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the county by Rivals for the 2014 class.

Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said that Watson is hanging with Stoudt (a senior) and Kelly (redshirt sophomore) so far this spring and that the trio of signal callers will split reps during the team’s first spring scrimmage on Monday.

“I think it’s still a three-person race,” Morris said. “I think all three of them are working extremely hard, and all three of them have had their days, all three of them have had not so good days. We will have a better understanding after Monday and try and settle in with a guy for the rest of the week after Monday’s performance. We will gauge it and judge it and go from there.”

In addition to grading his quarterback’s performance in the scrimmage, Morris also said he would like to see how the three players reacted to live contact this spring. According to Larry Williams of Tigers Illustrated Morris wants the QBs to be full contact at some point this coming week.

Seeing how each player reacts to being hit and avoiding live pressure will only help Morris choose his future quarterback and I think it’s something that more programs could benefit during the spring. Now that doesn’t mean that the QBs need to be live running the read-option, but it should be beneficial in the decision-making process that will likely continue into fall camp.

Power Rankings

SEC-ACCAfter a one-week hiatus let’s check back in on the SEC and ACC power rankings.

SEC Power Rankings

14. Kentucky (1-6, 0-4 SEC): After falling in an early hole, the Wildcats almost came up with their first SEC-win of the year, only to fall short to Mississippi State 28-22. Mark Stoops’ defense continues to be the weak link. The Bulldogs racked up 447 yards of offense and converted 10 of 18 times third down. Alabama State comes to town just in time.

13. Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2 SEC): I hope Bulldog fans enjoyed the last weeks, because starting on Saturday Mississippi State faces South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama all in row. Not good news for a team that let Kentucky hang around.

 

12. Arkansas (3-4, 0-3 SEC): After a BYE week the Hogs face their fifth straight ranked opponent on Saturday. In its last two losses Arkansas gave up 52 points, and Auburn is averaging 37 points per game. Brett Bielma should probably just lay low for a while, but now he’s questioning the tapes that Auburn provided him. His baptism to the SEC continues this weekend.

11. Tennessee (4-4, 1-3 SEC): After a big win over South Carolina two weeks ago, the Volunteers were dismantled by the Alabama machine last weekend. Rajion Neal is on a roll at running back, but that likely ends this week with a trip to Missouri on Saturday.

10. Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4 SEC): Like Tennessee, Vanderbilt came back down to earth this weekend in a 56-24 loss to Texas A&M after beating Georgia two weeks earlier. Vandy takes a week off before a four game stretch to end the year. The Commodores have a chance to win three of those four en route to second straight bowl game.

9. Florida (4-3, 3-2 SEC): Florida’s offense is still a pile of hot garbage and last week’s 36-17 loss to a Missouri team playing with its second-string QB really showed just how much of a toll injuries have taken on the Gators’ defense. A loss on Saturday to Georgia could really put Will Muschamp’s job in jeopardy.

8. Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3 SEC): Thanks to a win over LSU two weeks ago, The Rebels have a really good shot at getting to eight wins this season. It’s late in the season and you can see Hugh Freeze’ young and talented roster is finally starting to click a little bit. These aren’t your daddy’s Rebels.

7. Georgia (4-3, 3-2 SEC): With the exception of perhaps this weekend’s opponent, no team’s season has taken a nose-dive quite like Georgia’s. Mark Richt’s team comes into the Cocktail Party with virtually no chance at a repeat trip to Atlanta. The good news is the return of Todd Gurley could spurn a strong finish for a young UGA team.

6. LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC): After stumbling against Ole Miss, LSU made quick work of Furman 48-16 last weekend. LSU’s young defense should benefit from a week off before traveling to Alabama in two weeks. Zach Mettenberger’s legacy as a Tiger will likely be defined by how he performs against the Tide.

5. Missouri (7-1, 3-1 SEC): Just as Gary Pinkel and Missouri got the whole country ready to buy in on this team, the Tigers lose in double-overtime to South Carolina. Missouri still controls it’s own destiny in the division formerly known as the SEC East. The Tigers should get back on track the next two weeks against Tennessee and Kentucky before a defining final two weeks of the season.

4. South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC): After losing to Tennessee two weeks ago, the Gamecocks kept their season alive with a big double-overtime win against Missouri. South Carolina just needs to take care of business against Mississippi State and Florida and they will have a great shot at an SEC East title with Missouri facing Texas A&M to end the regular season.

3. Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC): The Aggies bounced back from its loss to Auburn with a convincing win over Vanderbilt. Texas A&M’s defense continues to struggle, but with Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans that won’t matter much until the final two weeks of the season. They finish their horrid non-conference slate this week against UTEP.

2. Auburn (7-1, 3-1 SEC): Is Auburn really the second-best team in the SEC? Probably not, but after Alabama the whole conference is a whole lot of average. Gus Malzahn and Nick Marshall get most of the attention in Auburn’s quick turnaround this season, but the defense has come up with big stops lately. If that continues Auburn might have a shot at knocking off Bama.

1. Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC): The Crimson Tide’s methodical march towards a third-straight national title has gone exactly as planned this season. Alabama has only been tested by Johnny Manziel, and they now have a week off before facing LSU on November 9. There’s really no one in the SEC on Alabama’s level this season.

ACC Power Rankings

14. Virginia (2-6, 0-4 ACC): Let’s just face the facts, Virgina won’t win a game in the ACC this season. As bad as North Carolina is, I think the Tar Heels will win in two weeks and the Cavaliers aren’t taking down Clemson, Miami or Virginia Tech. Seriously BYU, what the hell happened?

13. North Carolina (2-5, 1-3 ACC): Don’t call it a comeback. No really don’t. North Carolina finally got back in the win column Saturday with a 34-10 trouncing of Boston College, but it was more exception than the rule. UNC finishes the year with four wins is my guess.

12. North Carolina State (3-4, 0-4 ACC): Look on the bright side N.C. State, you finished strong against FSU. The bad news- all recruits and fans changed the channel when you went down 35-0 13 minutes in. The Wolfpack are bad, but they have a chance to secure some bragging rights to end the season with a game against UNC this weekend and Duke and ECU still on the slate.

11. Boston College (3-4, 1-3 ACC): Steve Addazio just needs to convince his team ever game is the first half against Florida State or Clemson, because outside of that things haven’t been very pretty for the Eagles this season. BC fell to lowly UNC 34-10 this weekend. They face Virginia Tech on Saturday.

10. Syracuse (3-4, 1-2 ACC): After defeating N.C. State, Syracuse looked poised to have a solid debut season in the ACC. Then the Orange lost to Georgia Tech 56-0. To that GT team. After a week off Syracuse looks to salvage its dignity against Wake Forest this weekend.

9. Wake Forest (4-4 2-3 ACC): Wake Forest has looked like a different team the last three weeks. The Demon Deacons came up just short in a last-minute 24-21 loss to Miami on Saturday, but Wake has picked up wins over N.C. State and Maryland. It’s still going to be an uphill battle to get bowl eligible.

8. Pittsburgh (4-3, 2-2 ACC): Losing to Navy the week before facing Georgia Tech is never a good sign. Pitt’s defense is a decent one, but they didn’t look good against Navy. Quarterback Tom Savage had a nice day. Pitt fans may be longing for the Compass Bowl by the end of the year.

7. Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2 ACC): The Yellow Jackets have bounced back wit ha couple nice wins the last two weeks. They’ll face a tough test in Pitt on Saturday, before a Thursday night trip to Clemson. A loss on Saturday would really make Tech boosters take a long hard look at Paul Johnson’s buyout (they should anyway but that’s besides the point).

6. Duke (6-2, 2-2 ACC): Duke has rattled off four straight wins and has a legitimate shot at representing the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game thanks to last weekends 13-10 win over Virginia Tech. Aaron Boone just has to not turn it over in the last four weeks of the season and the Blue Devils will share the North Carolina State Championship with ECU.

5. Maryland (5-3, 1-3 ACC): A promising start has gone by the wayside for Maryland in its final ACC season. The Terrapins lost to Wake Forest 34-10 two weeks ago and let Clemson run away from them 40-27 last weekend. The Terps have a shot to win out, starting with Syracuse in two weeks.

4. Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1 ACC): Someone must have shown Logan Thomas the rankings during the BYE week, because he came out on Saturday and threw up all over himself. Thomas ran for 101 yards and a TD, but he also threw four interceptions as the Hokies lost to Duke AT HOME. If I’m a Hokie defender I have hard time honoring the non-contact jersey in practice. If VT doesn’t slip up again this weekend  against BC, then they still control their own destiny with a trip to Miami on November 9.


3. Miami (7-0, 3-0 ACC): Miami almost revealed it’s true self last weekend as it escaped Wake Forest 24-21. Still Miami is undefeated and comes into Saturday’s nationally televised game against FSU ranked No. 7. Miami. I do think the Hurricanes are an up and coming program, but the passing game lacks a game-changer.

2. Clemson (7-1, 5-1 ACC): Clemson started slow against Maryland, but avoided the slip-up with a big second half. If Clemson doesn’t lose focus the rest of the season, it’s rivalry game against South Carolina on November 30 could be for a BCS at-large bid. The Tigers still have one of the best offenses in the country and their remaining opponents aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts (save for maybe USC).

89-004311. Florida State (7-0, 5-0 ACC):  There’s not a poll in the country that I wouldn’t have Florida State number one in. The Seminoles have been absolutely dominant this season. Jameis Winston is that dude, and the defense is allowing just 13 points per game. As long as FSU continues to win convincingly then they’ll have a shot to jump Oregon.

Finally Famous

AP Photo

It’s a question that college football fans and media alike have been pondering ever since Jimbo Fisher became a head coach : Is Florida State back?

After a 51-14 thrashing of then-No. 3 Clemson, in place called Death Valley, last night many will be quick to say yes, the Seminoles are finally back to their 90s-level of play. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, especially after what I saw last night, but I’ll offer a different opinion: Who cares?

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

We can debate if FSU is back to perennial national title contender from now until January, but the reality is we won’t have a definitive answer until years down the road. During the dynasty FSU finished in the Top-five 14 consecutive seasons, so even if the 2013 Seminoles play for a BCS title this year it might not be ‘back’ by FSU’s standards.

Back to my original point though, who cares? Why do we have to qualify what this season means in the macro picture for Fisher and Florida State? Instead I’d urge you to rather just enjoy watching that kid Jameis Winston play for the next two seasons.

What Winston is doing this season is not normal. Against Clemson last night the redshirt freshman was 23 of 34 for 444 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, and also scored a rushing TD. He now has thrown for 1,885 yards, 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

FSU is now 6-0 for the first time since 1999, ranked No. 3 in the country, and No. 2 in the initial BCS rankings. Winston has been unfazed so far this season, no matter what’s been thrown at him.

Prior to kickoff Fisher told ESPN’s Heather Cox he wasn’t worried at all about his young signal caller would perform under the bright lights.

“I know how he prepares, I know how he thinks and I know what’s in his heart and I trust him with everything,” Fisher said.

Fisher isn’t the only the one. Winston’s teammates all have the utmost confidence in him (both the football and baseball team just to be clear), and it shows on the field. Winston is the ultimate competitor, while also still performing as the class clown more often than not. As Clemson rode a bus to prepare for its decent into Memorial Stadium, Winston delivered a simple message to his teammates prior to its biggest game in years, “Smile”.

“We ain’t leaving without a victory,” Winston told the locker room in front of ESPN’s cameras. “My brothers, put a smile on your face. OK. Because Florida State, if we’re going to do it- we do it big. Let’s go, let’s fight.”

Winston’s calm demeanor prior to the game translates to on-field success. Multiple times this season he’s vanished from a pack of would-be- tacklers only to deliver a highlight throw for a touchdown. Against Clemson, save for one play when FSU had a headset malfunction, Winston looked like the senior signal caller, while Clemson QB Tajh Body looked utterly rattled.

According to cfbstats.com, when FSU faces third-down and at least 10 yards to go, Winston is 10 for 11 for 202 yards, two touchdowns and nine first downs. Teams rarely convert in those situations, but the Alabama native and his teammates are doing it 90.9 percent of the time. It’s absurd.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

With FSU’s success Winston will head into an area of celebrity and fame that only Johnny Manziel has had to deal with in this current media culture as he makes a legitimate run at the Heisman trophy. In response to a question during media day prior to the season, Winston told reporters to hit him over the head with a microphone if he ever came down with Manziel disease.

He was asked again on Saturday night how he would deal with the pressures of the spotlight.

“I’m going to keep playing,” he responded. “I put everything on my team. It’s easy to get the big head when you think it’s just about yourself, but if I didn’t have those guys, if I didn’t have Coach Fisher, if I didn’t have coach (Randy) Sanders lecturing me every single day it would be easy to slide off… but those guys and the guys I’m playing with they’re amazing, and they’re not going to let me do it.”

Again he’s just a redshirt freshman. During my time covering Winston the only thing you couldn’t get the guy to do was talk about himself.

So while much of the conversation the next few weeks will center around whether or not Florida State is back, don’t forget to just enjoy watching Jameis Winston play football.

I know I am.

Week 8 Picks

Noles 247

Well let’s just pretend that last week’s picks didn’t happen. If it wasn’t for Oregon I would have been shutout with a 1-6 week to move to 23-19 for the year.

Pretty good slate of games this week, but let’s be real there’s only game you want me to breakdown: Florida State at Clemson. Let’s do it.

No. 5 Florida State at No. 3 Clemson- Saturday 8 p.m. ET on ABC: There’s no doubt that this has been the best week ever for the ACC. The league features the biggest match-up of the season with its two best teams, while Miami has also slid into the Top-10, Virginia Tech sits at No. 19 and future member Louisville is No. 8.

Getty Images

The winner of Saturday’s showdown in Death Valley will firmly be in the BCS Championship discussion, and its signal caller will be on pace to be a Heisman Trophy finalist in New York.

Much of the talk has centered around the two quarterbacks this week, and for good reason. Tajh Boyd is completing 66.5 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,783 yards, 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Jameis Winston is completing an absurd 73.2 percent of his passes, with 1,441 yards, 17 touchdowns and two interceptions. Winston ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency, while Boyd is eighth.

Winston has made the highlight reel plays escaping the grasps of defenders on multiple occasions, only to deliver a knockout blow in the form of a touchdown pass. Boyd has the signature win, a 38-35 win over Georgia before the Dawgs lost Aaron Murray’s supporting cast to injuries.

Both teams’ defenses have been up and down this season. Florida State is currently ranked seventh in the country in total defense, allowing just 276.8 yards of total offense per game. But the Seminoles have been subject to slow starts, a problem they seemed to have corrected in a 63-0 win over Maryland.

I think that much of FSU’s slow starts on defense were a product of young first-time starters and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt experimenting with different personnel. FSU has been burned by misdirection (see: Boston College film) some this year and the Tigers run plenty of plays that could lead to eye violations for the ‘Noles.

Sammy Watkins will be the biggest test for the young FSU secondary. Last year an ill Watkins had just five catches for 37 yards, but in 2011 he torched FSU for seven receptions, 141 yards and two TDs.

Clemson’s defense is allowing 344.8 yards of total offense per game (21st in the country), but is second in the country in sacks with 24 (Va. Tech leads the way with 27). Vic Beasley leads the country with nine sacks.

AP Photo

Where the Tigers struggle on defense is against the run game. Teams are averaging 158.3 yards per game on the ground against Clemson. Syracuse racked up 323 yards on Clemson, but the following week Boston College was held to just 94 yards.

The run game was the difference for FSU last year in a 49-37 win. The Seminoles ran for 287 yards as a team, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Quarterback E.J. Manuel and tailback Chris Thompson each eclipsed the 100-yard mark, while James Wilder Jr. bruised his way to 65 yards and two touchdowns.

This year Devonta Freeman is leading the way for FSU on the ground with 385 yards, while Wilder and converted defensive back Karlos Williams are each averaging over 5.9 yards per carry. Freeman, who didn’t play against Clemson last year after the death of his cousin (who he considered a brother as the two grew up together), could be the difference for a young FSU team in this one.

Prediction: Despite FSU having a redshirt freshman QB and being on the road, Vegas is giving Clemson three points in this one. I don’t expect the stage to be too big for Winston and I really do think Freeman will have a huge impact against a poor-tackling Clemson defense. Before the year I was certain Clemson would win this game, but now after watching both teams play, I think that FSU comes away with 35-28 victory.

No. 15 Georgia at Vanderbilt- Saturday Noon ET on CBS: Georgia still likely won’t have Todd Gurley for this one, but I don’t think it matters. An angry UGA defense carries the load this week and the Dawgs cover the seven points in a 24-10 victory.

No. 22 Florida at No. 14 Missouri- Saturday 12:21 p.m. ET on ESPN3: With no James Franklin for Missouri, Florida is a three-point favorite on the road despite its own group of injured play-makers. I don’t like Maty Mauk’s chances against this UF defense, the Gators win 12-7 in a game that everyone will be glad wasn’t available on TV.

No. 24 Auburn at No. 7 Texas A&M- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS: The Aggies are getting 13.5 points at home in this one. Texas A&M will win, but I think Nick Marshall will put up points on TAMU (Who hasn’t this year?) and cover. Texas A&M wins 35-31 over Auburn.

No. 9 UCLA at No. 13 Stanford- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN 2: After losing to Utah last week, Stanford is just a five-point favorite at home in this one. Utah hurt the Cardinal with a spread attack and UCLA’s offense is humming with Brett Hundley this season. I’m taking the Bruins on the road 24-17.

No. 6 LSU at Ole Miss- Saturday 7 p.m. ET on ESPN 2: LSU is coming off a big win over Florida, while Ole Miss lost a heart-breaker to Texas A&M last weekend. Vegas is giving the Tigers 10 points on the road and I think they’ll cover that. The young LSU defense is coming into its own and LSU takes down Ole Miss 42-20 in this one.

No. 20 Washington at Arizona State- Saturday 6 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network: Arizona State is favored by 3.5 points in this one. UW has lost two straight games to two very good opponents, but last time I checked Kieth Price still was the quarterback. Price and the Huskies get it done 28-17.