Fisher, Malzahn relive 2014 national championship when Texas A&M visit Auburn

Fisher, Malzahn relive 2014 national championship when Texas A&M visit Auburn

Two schools with a shared legacy as college football dark horses meet this weekend. Texas A&M were named national champions three times but the last was in 1939. Auburn has been honoured five times but it’s complicated.

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The Aggies’ most recent claims to success are more dubious. Johnny Manziel’s freshman Heisman that turns out to be his career peak in the US although he’s coming on strong in the CFL with Montreal. The school’s successful courtship of former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher wasn’t exactly Ohio State landing Urban Meyer, although it may turn out to be more ethical in the long run. I said maybe.

Auburn only lays claim to two of its five proffered championships but has strong arguments it should have won in two other seasons. Miami leapfrogged them in 1983 after squeaking past Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The War Eagles went undefeated in 1993 but were on probation. There was also the 2014 National Championship game at the Rose Bowl in which Auburn were nipped by Florida State 34-31 SU. The coaches in that game will be facing off again at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Can Gus Malzahn claim a small measure of revenge by knocking off Fisher’s No.25 A&M?

Jimbo Fisher had the better of it in 2014 but may be feeling nervous this season. He recently accused Gus Malzahn of employing “illegal tactics” on offence. [Photo: Kevin C Cox]

It won’t be easy even with the home advantage. The LINE moved in the Aggies’ favour early in the week. The Tigers were giving six points. Then it dipped to four. A&M won at Jordan-Hare in 2016 although Auburn returned the favour in College Station last year. In fact, the visiting team has won the past five meetings STRAIGHT UP. The winner is 3-2 AGAINST THE SPREAD in that stretch with the three wins coming in the most recent games.

Both teams are 5-3 SU. The Aggies lost to Mississippi State last week. Auburn were idle but ended a two-game slide the previous Saturday against Ole Miss. Both teams are 5-3. The shifting line could be explained by Gus Malzahn’s announcement that leading rusher Jartavious ‘Boobee’ Whitlow and starting right tackle Jack Driscoll are day-to-day. Jimbo Fisher’s biggest concern is reserve wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon’s foot surgery, which rules out his 15 catches and 221 yards until the bowl season.

The TOTAL [49] is conflicted by recent trends. Texas A&M is 4-0 with the UNDER in their last four games, all SEC clashes. On the other hand, Auburn exploits bye weeks very well. They’ve gone OVER three times and pushed once in their last four opportunities.

Overall, the road team is 6-0 ATS in the last half-dozen encounters, with the underdog 3-0-1 ATS.  A good deal depends on whether Boobee Whitlow is fit for the game and if not, whether Kam Martin and Shaun shivers can step up in his absence. Even so, the Aggies are coming off a loss and Auburn is rested, challenging the trend of road team’s winning streak in this matchup. With doubt on both sides rather than confidence, I feel safest risking my money on the UNDER in this one.

Free Pick: Texas A&M v Auburn: UNDER [49]
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

 

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What does it take for Northwestern to make you a believer?

What does it take for Northwestern to make you a believer?

Things change; people don’t deal well with it. That explains the current political climate not only in the United States but the rest of the world. It also explains why people think Wisconsin are just in a bad patch and Northwestern are playing way over their heads. I don’t want to start on a false premise, however, so let’s be clear. The Badgers are bad. The Wildcats are good.

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Part of the problem is perspective. Wisconsin at their best toys with a BCS ranking. Northwestern at their best will put the fear of purple into any squad.

Don’t put much stock in the Badgers rebound after taking a 25-point beatdown in the Big House. Their 49-20 win over Illinois only looks good when you don’t compare it to Northwestern’s 39-0 treatment of the Illini. They won by ten more points and kept their state rivals off the board.

Consider also that Northwestern came up a field goal short of defeating Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines at Ryan Field at September’s end. Pat Fitzgerald’s squad did topple Michigan State in East Lansing and knocked off the same Purdue squad that just embarrassed Ohio State. Add in a victory over nationally-ranked Kentucky, and you have a team that isn’t just ramrodding a lightweight Big Ten division, but one that can win big games.

Northwestern aren’t afraid to run right at people. Wisconsin have been tripping over themselves to stop opponents.

Wisconsin lost to a BYU team that was manhandled by Washington and Utah State in back-to-back weeks.

Northwestern were outclassed by Duke early in the season and edged by Akron. The Zips have a penchant for claiming scalps against better programs than the Wildcats, however. Since their 1-2 SU start, Fitzgerald’s group has only lost to Michigan.

The Badgers are more banged up than their hosts, too. DE Isaiahh Loudermilk remains out of the lineup and several others are doubtful. Each team has a running back making his return. Bradrick Shaw is expected to be in Wisconsin’s lineup after recovering from an ACL problem. John Moten IV will rejoin the Wildcat offence after missing a week. Senior Solomon Vault also returns to the receiving corps.

More a product of poor defending, the Badgers are 4-0 with the over in their most recent conference games and when playing schools with winning records. Their 7-1 run Against The Spread on grass isn’t so telling under their current circumstances.

Northwestern is 7-0-1 with the OVER in games after sub-20-point outings. They squeaked past Rutgers 18-15 SU last week in New Jersey. They’re also 8-1 ATS in similar affairs. Further proof this is a team with character. They’re 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings at Ryan Field although, to be fair, the -1 came in Wisconsin’s last visit. The under has prevailed four out of the last five encounters between the two sides, regardless of the venue.

Wisconsin was giving away 4.5 points at the writing although that number was in freefall at the time. People are beginning to believe in the Wildcats. So should you.

Free Pick: Northwestern +4.5
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BYU Cougars and Washington Huskies set to ground and pound?

BYU Cougars and Washington Huskies set to ground and pound?

It isn’t often the consensus favours an outsider over a Power Five conference school. That’s the case in Saturday’s scrap between Brigham Young’s Cougars and the Washington Huskies, kicking off at 8:30 Eastern.

Brigham Young remains an independent after poising itself for a Big 12 expansion that never materialised. Regardless, Kalani Sitake’s squad is playing strong football. Their lone defeat came against Cal, when they lost by a field goal. They responded by eking out a similar victory over Wisconsin. Sitaki’s the first Tongan college football head coach, an appropriately independent, open-minded decision from the Mormon school. So far, he’s paying dividends.

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Washington is also 3-1 despite not receiving the same love from the betting public. After a season-opening defeat to Auburn, victories came over Utah, Arizona State and North Dakota.

The Cougars claim three from the past four meetings, with the Huskies winning the last. That was in 2013, however.

Squally Canada should seeplenty of action against a relatively weak Washington run defence.

Squally Canada should be busy against a relatively weak Washington run defence.

So far this season, BYU’s 3-1 Against The Spread. Washington’s only been on the right side of the line once.

It’s a big line. Washington are giving away 17 points. They failed to cover in their one match in that scenario this campaign, beating North Dakota 45-3 when the line was 46. On the other hand, BYU took care of your business against McNeese State, beating their Football Championship Subdivision opponent 30-3 against a 24.5 point spread. As big underdogs [+23.5] they upset Wisconsin 24-21. That result’s driving the action heading into this tilt.

Should it? ATS action says yes. BYU’s running 5-0 ATS away from home. Meanwhile, Washington’s 0-5 ATS in their last five games outside the PAC-12.

On the other hand, you should about the under. Consistently low scoring against the total from two strong teams suggests a close game. The Cougars went under in every game this season. Likewise the Huskies, who haven’t gone over in their last six September games or the last five times after holding an opponent to less than 275 yards total offence. Chris Petersen’s squad held Arizona State to 269 in their 27-20 win last week.

Myles Gaskin's senior-year production lags behind the pace he's set throughout his Huskies tenure.

Myles Gaskin’s senior-year production lags behind the pace he’s set throughout his Huskies tenure.

Both teams list several players as questionable but no key players are missing for either.

Each side’s ranked high in total defence, Washington 17th, BYU 28th. In each case, that’s down to the secondary. BYU ranks just 61st in run defence while Washington’s 64th. Expect the two teams to pound each other into submission. Cougars senior Squally Canada has 322 yards on 61 carries for a solid 5.3yd/carry average. The Huskies main man, Myles Gaskin logged 1300-yard seasons in his first three years. He’s on a subpar 357 yards this campaign, averaging a yard less per carry than Canada.

Unless Gaskin has a breakout game, the signals favour BYU.

Free Pick: Brigham Young +17
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

 

UCLA must go mile high against Colorado while at a disturbing low

UCLA must go mile high against Colorado while at a disturbing low

The country’s biggest conferences hold the inside track to a national title in football. Within the Power Five, there are elite teams in the national title picture every year, top programs that compete in bowl games, and the makeweights who occasionally rise up to challenge the established order.

Historically, UCLA fits best into the second category. Not a powerhouse, the Bruins are accustomed to competing in minor bowl games with an occasional appearance in the Rose Bowl as [formerly] PAC10 champions. Colorado rose up from the Big 8’s lower half to share the national title with Georgia Tech in 1990 before settling at the same level. Rivalling although never mastering Oklahoma, the Buffaloes moved to the expanded PAC12.

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Colorado remains a bowl candidate, 3-0 SU on the year. UCLA, on the other hand, is mired in the conference cellar, winless in their three games. The Bruins retain some pride. They’re 4-1 Against The Spread in their last five games following contests in which they passed for less than 170 yards. In their 38-14 loss to Fresno State last time out, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson went 10/24 for 151 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. That said, UCLA are 2-10 ATS in their last 12 September games. If you’re a Virgo or a Libra, the Bruins aren’t for you.

UCLA look to turn around an 0-3 start on their trip to Boulder to face the Colorado Buffaloes.

Altitude may be an issue for the visitors, as well. Colorado thrives in the rarified air. Their last four home games went over. The under’s 6-0 in the Buffs’ last six under Friday night lights, though.

While the Bruins struggle at 1-4 ATS in the last five against Colorado, the underdog’s 5-0 ATS. Translation: the Buffs are seldom favoured even though they’re giving away 9.5 points in this one. More significantly, the road team’s 5-1 ATS recently in this match-up. Can the Bruins dig deep to turn their season around?

It won’t be easy. Head coach Chip Kelly must leave an array of banged-up bodies on the coast for this trip. Offensive lineman Zach Sweeney’s out for the year. So are linebacker Josh Woods and defensive back Octavius Spencer, the latter a suspension for violating team policy. Seven other players are questionable for the game. DL Boss Tagaloa and TE Devin Asiasi return after serving three-game suspensions.

Chip Kelly has his work cut out at UCLA

The Bruins disciplinary problems make it difficult to get behind them with any serious commitment. Kelly must turn things around. He needs the players on the same page with him to do so. A complicated zone-read offence requires repetitions in practice and games. Players can’t develop that experience sitting in your dorm or the press box.

The table’s set for coach Mike MacIntyre and the Buffs to move to 4-0 SU on the season. The question is whether Kelly’s injury-riddled, misbehaving cast can respond. I don’t think they can. Expect the Buffs to stampede on both sides of the ball. The total is tricky but go with the under.

 2018-19 Football Betting PredictionsFree Pick: UCLA+9 and a half points!
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

 

Will Oregon be bachelors to Stanford’s masters in a battle of Phil Knight alma maters?

Will Oregon be bachelors to Stanford’s masters in a battle of Phil Knight alma maters?

College football’s best Saturday matchup is a West Coast affair. No.8 Stanford travels to Autzen Stadium to meet no.19 Oregon. The Cardinal v the Ducks. Ivy League West v Nike’s interactive showroom. Condoleeza Rice and Tiger Woods double-teaming Phil Knight.

The Nike Chairman Emeritus is at an additional disadvantage. While he studied his bachelors in journalism at Oregon, he earned an MBA at Stanford that put him on the Nike path. He’s donated heavily to both schools. Still, if Stanford proves a legitimate two-point favourite on the road, the real world’s answer to Al Bundy won’t be too upset.

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Both teams come into the game 3-0. Neither’s played away from home, although the Ducks 0-3 record against the closing line this season offers hope to the visitors. Most of the numbers align in Stanford’s favour. The Cardinal are 5-1 ATS in their last six overall and against teams with winning records. Meanwhile, Oregon is 0-4 ATS in their last four home games. Worse, the Ducks are 0-9 ATS in their last nine games in which they limited opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. San Jose State mustered only 30 yards on the ground during their visit to Autzen last week, a 35-22 loss. Hello.

Stanford Cardinal RB Bryce Love goes the distance against the Oregon Ducks

Stanford Cardinal RB Bryce Love goes the distance against the Oregon Ducks in a game at Stanford Stadium. A wonky knee may slow him up in this one.

Scoring’s a different issue. Stanford hit the under in nine of their last 10 following a victory. Add to that nervous tensions regarding pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love’s knee; you begin to wonder whether the points will come in this one? The 5’10” 202lb senior from Wake Forest, NC gained 136 yards on 22 carries in the Cardinal’s 17-3 season-opening win against Southern Cal. Against San Diego State, he was limited to 29 on 18 before leaving the game and missing the subsequent win over San Jose State.

On the other hand, the total [56 at the writing] went over in five of the last six games in Eugene, 10/13 overall. Starting OL Penei Sewell’s questionable with an ankle injury. Backup receiver Brenden Schooler’s awaiting clearance on concussion protocol. Their availability may affect that trend especially considering Oregon was already making due without TE Cam McCormick, who’s ruled out for the season with a broken leg.

Stanford holds a definite advantage in the coaching department.

David Shaw’s in his eighth season with the Cardinal. He comes to Eugene two wins shy 100. Mario Cristobal took over when Willie Taggart left for Florida State at last season’s end.

Hosting no.8 Stanford will test Mario Cristobal's bonafides as head coach at a major program.

Hosting no.8 Stanford will test Mario Cristobal’s bonafides as head coach at a major program.

Cristobal, a former lineman at Miami, received a harsh welcome to the PAC-12, losing to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, 38-28. While undefeated this season, his previous record at Florida International doesn’t inspire. After a 1-11 debut season in 2007, he built the Golden Panthers into minor bowl contenders, winning the Little Caesar’s Bowl in 2010 against Toledo before losing the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl the next year to Marshall. A 3-9 record in 2012 ended his tenure in South Florida. He then became offensive line/assistant head coach under Nick Saban at Alabama for three seasons before joining Oregon last year as the OL coach and co-offensive coordinator alongside former San Jose State quarterback Marcus Arroyo.

With or without Bryce Love expect a clash of philosophies. Oregon loves to pile on the yards and points whereas Stanford manage the clock and play strong defence. The Cardinal are also more efficient in the red zone and less apt to take penalties. Both are qualities needed to win on the road. Either way, it should be an exciting colourful, affair in Eugene.

Enjoy.

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Ohio State rolls into Big D to face TCU in a battle of young coaching minds

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SEC fans might argue LSU v Auburn is the weekend’s marquee college football matchup. For me, it’s Ohio State’s trip down to AT&T Stadium in Dallas to take on Texas Christian. The territorial clash between the 12th and 7th-ranked Tigers is enticing but the evening game promises all out war even though it’s an interconference battle.

Before I delve into that, I just want to say my thoughts are with the folks in the Carolinas dealing with Hurricane Florence’s impact. I live in South Florida, been there, done that, don’t wish it on anyone. If you live elsewhere and can, please help.

American Red Cross Hurricane Florence relief effort

Thanks.

We’re three weeks into the NCAA season. Both schools have been beating up opponents thus far. TCU handled Southern University 55-14 then put it to SMU 42-12. The 15th-ranked Horned Frogs scored 97 points while surrendering just 26. The #4 Buckeyes are even more devastating. They buried Oregon State’s Beavers 77-31. Eleven touchdowns effectively communicated how they felt about another school daring to refer to itself as OSU. Then they explained to Rutgers that New Jersey hasn’t yet earned the right to be known as Big Ten country, leaving the Scarlet Knights red-faced after a comprehensive 52-3 rout.

Gary Patterson, TCU's defensive guru

With a combined 226 points scored, all the pressure’s on the two defenses in this clash. That probably suits TCU coach Gary Patterson to a tee. He can put his reputation as one of college football’s best defensive minds to the test against Buckeye interim boss Ryan Day.

The 39-year-old has a tiny window to impress. Urban Meyer’s suspension is nearing its end. Failing to understand it’s one thing to figuratively beat up an opponent on the field, another to ignore that an assistant is taking his work home in a literal way doesn’t play well. Meyer’s a great coach. Hopefully, he used the forced hiatus to work on being a better human being.

In the meantime, Day’s done things a little differently. The young coach ignored Meyer’s respect for seniority, electing to go with sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

Ryan Day and Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State

It’s strange to discuss a youth movement in the college game, but the 21-year-old repaid the faith placed in him. After two games, he’s completed 42 of 53 passes (79%) for 546 yards, nine touchdowns and an interception.

Back-up Tate Martell completed 13 of 14 in mop-up duty, with another TD thrown. The Buckeye’s 82% completion rate leads the NCAA.

Opponents are accustomed to losing sleep over Ohio State’s running game. This week, Patterson probably lied awake staring at deep balls stretching the defence on his bedroom ceiling. The TCU headman will need to spare a few nightmares for the Buckeyes’ defence.

Defensive lineman Nick Bosa [yes, Joey’s little bro] is battling Haskins for honours as the team’s most valuable player. Bosa the younger already boasts nine tackles, five for a loss, three on the quarterback and a touchdown following a fumble recovery. Hello.

Nick Bosa zeroes in on Rutgers QB Art Sitkowski

Then there are linebacker Pete Werner’s seven tackles, including a sack, two passes defended and a forced fumble. Nice to meet you.

If Patterson can make the secondary put in a shift, he won’t enjoy the results. Safety Jahsen Wint has eight tackles. Cornerbacks Shaun Wade and Kendall Sheffield each made an interception. Come back to see us soon.

Patterson’s defense is on the small but quick side. The two most dangerous players are Alec Dunham, who can match Bosa’s fumble recovery for a touchdown, Arico Evans and Innis Gaines. Ridwhan Issaku, Garret Wallow and Niko Small made significant contributions, too.

Offensively, TCU is also yardage by committee, with three backs each just over 100 yards. One is starting quarterback Shawn Robinson. The sophomore also posts a 61% completion rate with 328 yards, four touchdowns and an interception thrown. The critical question, however, is whether the Horned Frogs’ defensive line can stand up to the Buckeyes’ front five? It should be fun to find out.

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Miami, LSU mark the 10th anniversary of AT&T Stadium with appropriately young squads

Miami, LSU mark the 10th anniversary of AT&T Stadium with appropriately young squads

The NCAA Football season cranks up the 2018 season with a preseason bowl game at the megalith built by a megalomaniac, Jerry Jones’ AT&T Stadium. This season, the eighth-ranked University of Miami takes on no.25 Louisiana State.

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Billed as the Advocare Classic despite just reaching its tenth anniversary, the game debuted with the stadium in 2009. The first game featured Brigham Young, ranked 20th, taking on third-ranked Oklahoma. It’s memorable as the game in which Heisman Trophy winner and current Arizona Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford’s career unofficially ended. Just a few plays after becoming the Sooners’ all-time passer, the junior sprained his throwing shoulder.

Oklahoma OL Brian Simmons was perfectly succinct in summing up the defeat, but also Bradford’s injury and professional future.

This loss hurts.

Bradford attempted to come back later in the year then opted for season-ending surgery before the NFL draft. He then signed a mega-contract with the St Louis Rams but further injuries denied him the opportunity to live up to his potential.

Sam Bradford after Oklahoma's defeat to BYU in the first Cowboys Classic.

Sam Bradford after Oklahoma’s defeat to BYU in the first Cowboys Classic.

To date, the Cougars pulled off the lone upset in the <cough> Classic’s history, unless you count no.4 LSU defeating no.3 Oregon in 2011. That said, the series’ lone unranked participant, Oklahoma State, put a scare into top-ranked Florida State in 2014.

Two pre-season number ones graced AT&T Stadium for this one, the 2016 Alabama squad being the other. The Crimson Tide boast the most appearances and best record, at 3-0. LSU and TCU are the only other schools to play more than once. Although underdogs this season, the Tigers hope to equal ‘Bama’s three-win mark. Miami wants to spoil LSU’s dream in their first appearance.

It won’t be easy for the Hurricanes. Head coach Mark Richt brings a young team to Dallas. Tight end Michael Irvin II won’t be there. The second-generation ‘Cane is lost until early December with a knee injury, a post-season bowl game his solitary hope for action this campaign. Senior QB Malik Rosier is a rarity. Richt intends to play several freshmen, true and redshirt, on both sides of the ball. The coach was particularly enthusiastic about 6’ 6” 250lb DL Greg Rousseau during his weekly radio show.

It feels like he’s been here two years, but he’s a true freshman. You can’t deny what he’s done since camp began.

With so many inexperienced players, you might expect Miami to rely on its defense to contain LSU.

Two veteran coaches in Mark Richt and Ed Orgeron; two young squads in UM and LSU.

Two veteran coaches in Mark Richt and Ed Orgeron; two young squads in UM and LSU.

On the other hand, Ed Orgeron’s Tigers begin a new cycle as well, featuring a handful of transfers, including starting quarterback Joe Burrows, who came from Ohio State. In addition to Burrows’ debut, LSU enters the season with a running back corps that hasn’t scored a touchdown in a meaningful game. Burrows top receivers are junior Jonathan Giles, a transfer from Texas Tech who sat out last season, and true freshman Terrace ‘Don’t call me Terrance’ Marshall from Bossier City, LA.

Expect both squads to be chomping at the bit to start their seasons on a rare Sunday night for the NCAA. After watching the entire country strut their stuff, all those freshmen and transfers will be eager to prove what they can do. No doubt, Mark Richt and Ed Orgeron will be equally impatient to find out.

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