NCAA Football Predictions: Week 9 Opening Line Report and Picks
In this writer's humble opinion, college - if not life itself - is all about motivation. I nearly flunked out my first semester at college what with co-ed dorms, a fake ID and my parents footing the bill. Then I got some unwanted but ultimately needed motivation: I had to pay for school going forward thanks to my lousy grades. Still had plenty of fun but at least went to class from then on out.
So why do I bring this up? Football is about motivation too. And it's why I think you should bet against Ole Miss the rest of the way. The Rebs won't play in a bowl game this season after they self-imposed a one-year postseason ban due to major NCAA violations. Frankly, I think that program won't be playing in a bowl game for a long time if all those allegations are true, but you never know what the silly NCAA will do (how did North Carolina get off with a slap on the wrist recently?). Thus, you take that motivational carrot away. Plus, the guys who will be in the program next season know they are playing for a lame-duck coach in Matt Luke, who was promoted to that interim role after the Hugh Freeze scandal. Luke's not getting that job full-time.
Now you add another reason for those players to go somewhat through the motions the rest of the way: The Rebels' best player by far, quarterback Shea Patterson, is done for the season. He tore his PCL in Saturday's loss to LSU. He was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country in 2016. Ole Miss stupidly burned his redshirt late last season when starter Chad Kelly went down injured. Frankly, I'm not sure why Patterson didn't transfer this offseason after the guys who primarily recruited him, former offensive coordinator Dan Werner and Freeze, were booted.
Patterson was one of the leading passers in the country in completing 63.8 percent for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns. In his spot now is a JuCo transfer from something called New Mexico Military Institute named Jordan Ta'amu. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 78 yards against LSU. Ole Miss is home this Saturday against Arkansas with no line posted yet . The loser of that one probably finishes last in the SEC West; the Hogs are the only team in that division without a conference victory.
Here are a few Week 9 opening lines that caught my eye. Games Saturday unless noted.
Tulsa at SMU (-9): Being honest, the Thursday and Friday games are quite lame again this week, but this Friday matchup (ESPN2) from the American Athletic Conference should be an offensive showcase and probably has the highest total of the week (those aren't out as of this writing). SMU, a contender in the AAC West, averages 42.0 points per game but allows 30.6. Tulsa scores 32.8 but gives up 37.6. It's also two rising star coaches in the profession in Tulsa's Philip Montgomery and SMU's Chad Morris, both excellent offensive minds. The Golden Hurricane are struggling this season, so Montgomery's star might have faded a bit, but it wouldn't surprise me if Morris, the former Clemson offensive coordinator, is plucked by a Power 5 school this offseason. Last year, Tulsa beat SMU 43-40 in overtime. There was nearly 1,000 yards of offense, and I fully expect more of the same. The Pick: SMU.
No. 11 Oklahoma State at No. 22 West Virginia (+6): Could this be a lookahead game for the Pokes? They host Oklahoma in Bedlam next weekend. The Cowboys were fortunate to win at Texas this past Saturday, 13-10 in overtime as Horns QB Sam Ehlinger threw an inexplicable interception in the end zone in OT to end it. Okie State was averaging 49 points per game coming in. It was the Cowboys' fifth straight win in Austin, the most ever by a Texas opponent. West Virginia nearly got caught looking ahead to this one in escaping at Baylor 38-36. The Mountaineers led 38-13 entering the fourth but had to stop the Bears on a 2-point try with 17 seconds left. OSU won in Morgantown last season, 37-20. Mason Rudolph threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score. Three times the Cowboys forced turnovers and gained possession inside the West Virginia 15-yard line, leading to 17 points. The Pick: OSU.
No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State (-6): The clear game of the day, and ESPN GameDay will be in Columbus. I thought Heisman leader Saquon Barkley would struggle against Michigan's top-ranked defense this past Saturday, but he was great with 176 all-purpose yards in the 42-13 rout. Barkley needs 359 all-purpose yards to break Larry Johnson's school record, and Barkley is averaging an FBS-best 211 per game this season. Ohio State was on the bye last week. Because the Buckeyes already lost earlier this year to Oklahoma, their playoff chances evaporate with a defeat here. It's a payback game for the Buckeyes, and the winner likely takes the Big Ten East Division - although PSU still has to travel to Michigan State, and OSU hosts Michigan State and visits to Michigan. Last season, the Nittany Lions officially stamped they were back among the nation's elite with a 24-21 win over the Buckeyes by returning a blocked field goal 60 yards for a touchdown with less than five minutes to go. That had been Penn State's first win over a ranked team under James Franklin and first against a Top 2 team since 1990. The Pick: Ohio State.
No. 3 Georgia vs. Florida (+14.5): The annual World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party - it's crazy fun to attend one of these - in Jacksonville. The unbeaten Dawgs, who come off their bye week, can't officially wrap up the SEC East with a victory but for all intents and purposes can as they would eliminate Florida. Kentucky and South Carolina are still in the mix, but Georgia plays host to both and I doubt will lose either. The only SEC road block left would be at Auburn on Nov. 21. If UGA is unbeaten entering the SEC title game against a likely unbeaten Alabama, it's quite possible the SEC gets two teams into the playoff if that game is a nail-biter (especially if Georgia wins). Florida also comes off its bye week but on a two-game losing streak, mustering just 33 points in close home losses to LSU and Texas A&M. The Gators had one game canceled earlier this year and might have to worry about bowl eligibility with a loss here as they still visit South Carolina and play Florida State. During the bye, Florida ruled out senior defensive end Jordan Sherit for the year due to hip surgery. He ranked sixthon the team with 23 tackles and second with 2.5 sacks. Two other starters on defense, safety Nick Washington and cornerback Quincy Lenton, are likely out for this one due to injury. Florida beat Georgia 24-10 last year. The Pick: Florida (only to cover).
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