PiRate Picks for SEC and top national games

VandyMania's Howell Peiser picks this week's top SEC and national college football games using his PiRate system.

PiRate Picks For November 19, 2005
It's the end of the road for several teams this week including Vanderbilt.  Two blocked field goal attempts will be remembered for preventing the Commodores from breaking a 23-year losing season and bowl game streak.  The 23 consecutive seasons without posting an above .500 record is the longest current streak in the NCAA.  If the Commodores do not post a winning season by 2012, they will hold the all-time record for futility, surpassing Oregon State which suffered losing records from 1971 to 1998.
There are several important games this week, both in the SEC and outside of the league.  Let's take a look at them.  The lines given are the opening lines.  I am writing this on Monday afternoon rather than the usual Wednesday evening due to an upcoming business trip so I do not have official totals lines.
Southeastern Conference
Clemson @ South Carolina
One prediction I can make with relative ease is that there will be no major fracas in this game like the one that caused both teams bowl trips last year.  While no hanky-panky will go on, this should be a hard-hitting game that goes down to the wire.  Both teams are red hot.  USC has won five in a row, while Clemson has won four out of their last five.
Clemson should rush the ball for 150 yards and pass for close to 200, while holding the Gamecocks to about 330 yards.  However, Spurrier's Gamecocks have won with less total yards.  Both teams have the potential to be flat coming off impressive victories, but this is a war.  The game is a pick‘em, and I'll take the home team in a game too close to place a wager.
PiRate Prediction: South Carolina 24  Clemson 22
Mississippi State @ Arkansas
Would you take a free ticket to attend this game?  I doubt many fans outside the Land of Opportunity would say, "yes."
Arkansas should rush for more than 200 yards in this game, while Mississippi State rushes for 150 yards.  The Razorbacks should gain at least 50 more yards through the air than the Bulldogs.  It adds up to a two touchdown win in Fayetteville.  The line is 13 ½ points, so this one is another game to leave alone.
PiRate Prediction: Arkansas 27  Mississippi State 13
L S U @ Ole Miss
In the 1950's and early 1960's, this was the game of the year in the SEC.  It won't be close to that this year.  LSU should bounce a little this week after the emotional win over Alabama, but the Bengal Tigers have enough firepower to blitz the Rebels.
LSU will hold the Rebels under 300 total yards and 10 points.  They won't set the woods on fire on offense, but they should top 330 yards and win by more than two touchdowns.  The line favors LSU by 17, and I favor them by only a tad more.
PiRate Prediction: LSU 27  Ole Miss 7
Kentucky @ Georgia
Might Steve Spurrier give Rich Brooks some help this week?  In the unbelievable event that Kentucky upsets the Bulldogs between the hedges,  South Carolina will advance to the SEC Championship game.  Forget about it.  Georgia isn't going to lose this game even though they have dropped two in a row and the Cats have their offense rolling.
Look for D.J. Shockley to enjoy his best game of the year and top 300 yards passing as Georgia clinches a berth in the title game.  It wouldn't surprise me if the Redcoats compile more than 200 yards rushing as well.
Kentucky has proven they can score points this year.  The Wildcats won't score 27 or 28 like they did against Florida and Auburn, but they should be good for 20. 
The line is 27 ½ points, and that might be a smidgen too much.
PiRate Prediction: Georgia 44  Kentucky 20
Alabama @ Auburn
If you consider that LSU's home field advantage should account for something, Auburn is the best team in the league for the second consecutive season.  The Tigers have an offense that can score points on the ground or through the air.  Figure on 200 yards passing for Auburn regardless of the opponent.  It will give them just enough offense to score one more time than Alabama.
Who knows how Alabama's season would have ended if Tyrone Prothro had not been injured?  It just goes to show that even great teams lacking depth can be destroyed by just one key injury.  Coach Joe Kines' defense is the best in the nation this year, and the Crimson Tide will hold Auburn well under its total yard average.  It just won't be enough. 
The line shows Auburn to be a seven-point pick.  Once again, the PiRate ratings agree.
PiRate Prediction: Auburn 20  Alabama 14
Vanderbilt @ Tennessee
This was supposed to be the biggest game in this series since possibly 1982.  Two weeks ago, Vanderbilt looked like a clear-cut favorite in this game.  After watching Kentucky make the scoreboard change as quickly as a pinball machine, that assumption from a fortnight ago is no longer valid.
Tennessee has played nine games and still hasn't played up to their offensive potential.  Their defense has kept them in most games, and they have handled the weaker teams.
Jay Cutler has thrown for 1,095 yards in Vandy's last three games, and he could very well close out his collegiate career with another 300 to 350-yard passing game.  The problem is that the rushing statistic could very well have a minus symbol in front of the yardage indicated.  The Volunteers will rush Cutler as aggressively as LSU did. 
Vanderbilt is battered and bruised, which is a recipe for disaster when depth is a big issue.  To a depth-thin offensive line, add Jeff Jennings and his power running ability to the list of casualties.  The Commodores lack the quickness to beat Tennessee with wide runs.  What it means is another game with 50+ passes.  Cutler may lead in rushing attempts thanks to numerous QB sacks.
As you can tell, I give Vanderbilt little chance to win this game.  They just don't have enough healthy bodies who can play at the same level as the SEC heavyweights.  While the chance exists that Tennessee could find their lost offense and make this one a laugher, I am going to stay conservative and call for the Vols to win this game by 10-14 points.  The line is 13 points, so it's yet another one to lay off with your investment capital.
PiRate Prediction: Tennessee 26  Vanderbilt 14
15 Non-SEC Games of Importance
Fresno State @ Southern California
The best team in the WAC takes on the best team in the Pac-10.  In normal years, one could give the Pac-10 team the edge by about 17 points.  This isn't a normal year as Southern Cal belongs in the class with some of the best teams of all time.
Fresno State currently averages more than 40 points a game and should score  at least two and probably three touchdowns.  I wouldn't be surprised if the Bulldogs tallied 400 total yards in this game.
The big difference is on the other side of the ball.  FSU doesn't have enough power to slow down the Trojan offense.  Matt Leinart should torch them for 300 yards before taking an early exit.  The USC ground game should top 200 yards and then some (possibly topping 300 yards if Reggie Bush and/or LenDale White break off a long run or two).
The line shows USC to be favored by 24 points and wouldn't you know it, my ratings say the exact same thing again.
PiRate Prediction:  Southern Cal  48  Fresno State 24
Ohio State @ Michigan
I can vividly remember watching Ohio State demolish Michigan 50-14 to close out the 1968 regular season and the coaching career of Bump Elliott.  A year later, Ohio State ventured into Ann Arbor with a 22-game winning streak and an all-but-guaranteed second consecutive national championship in hand.  Michigan ruined the Buckeye party by pulling off the last big upset of the 1960's.
Since then, this rivalry has been as good as any other in the nation.  Twice these teams met to close out the season when they were both undefeated.  In 1993, 1995, and 1996, Ohio State entered the Michigan game undefeated and suffered a loss.
So, how will this year's epic battle go?  Both teams enter this game playing their best ball of the season.  It should be a fabulous afternoon of football in Ann Arbor. 
The difference in this game should be in the rushing yardage.  Ohio State will perform better against Michigan's defense than Michigan's ground game will against the Buckeyes' defense.  Ohio State is favored by 2 ½ points, and I think they will win by a field goal.
PiRate Prediction: Ohio State 27  Michigan 24
Georgia Tech @ Miami
You know the spiel that's given at the Miss America pageant every year just before the winner is announced.  If the winner cannot fulfill her role as Miss America, then the first runner-up will become the new Miss America.  Miami is the first runner-up and should either Southern California or Texas falter, the Hurricanes will descend on Pasadena.
That is if "The U" can get by Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Florida State.  The first part of the equation will be successfully solved this week.  The Techsters don't have the horses to win at the Orange Bowl.  One touchdown and one field goal are about all the offense can expect to produce.  Meanwhile, Miami will combine power and speed to punish the Yellow Jacket defense. 
The line for this game is 17 ½ points; I'm beginning to think my PiRate ratings use the same criteria to figure the spread as Las Vegas, because I have Miami favored by 18.
PiRate Prediction: Miami 28  Georgia Tech 10
  Penn State @ Michigan State
Coach John L. Smith's Spartans have been in this situation before in each of his first two years in East Lansing.  In 2003, the Spartans upset an 8-1 Minnesota team in the Metrodome spoiling the Gophers' chance at winning the Big 10 and playing in the Fiesta Bowl.  Last year, MSU not only ended Wisconsin's unbeaten record at nine consecutive wins, they pummeled the Badgers 49-14.
So, do the Spartans have a chance to pull of the trick a third year in a row and also become bowl eligible?  If they can avoid the foolish mistakes that have hampered them for three years and force Penn State to make one critical first half mistake, then yes, they can pull off the upset.  However, I don't think the Nittany Lions are going to make any vital mistakes in this game.  Then, once Joe pa's troops have the lead, I look for Drew Stanton and company to make a couple mistakes that lead to a game-clinching Penn State touchdown.
The line on this one has Penn State favored by a touchdown; for a change, I disagree with the line.  This game is the Joe Pa Bowl.  The PSU players will play their best game of the season and not only win, but beat the spread.
PiRate Prediction:  Penn State 30  Michigan State 17
Oregon State @ Oregon
Of all the one-loss teams remaining, Oregon seems to be flying in under the radar screen.  They lost only to USC and led that game 13-0 in the second quarter.  Oregon State has played matador pass defense this year, and it's going to cost them a chance at a bowl game. The Beavers haven't won "The Civil War" battle in Eugene since 1993, and I don't see it happening this year. 
Former BYU coach Gary Crowton has done wonders with his West Coast passing offense in his first year as offensive coordinator for Duck coach Mike Bellotti.  The Ducks are on pace to shatter team total yardage and scoring marks set by Joey Harrington's great Fiesta Bowl champion team.
I expect Kellen Clemens to exploit the Beaver secondary for more than 400 yards, while the running game should add another 130-150.  That should be enough for the Ducks to win comfortably.  The spread is 13 ½, and for yet another time, my PiRate ratings agree.
PiRate Prediction: Oregon 41  Oregon State 27
California @ Stanford
Perhaps overshadowed by Southern Cal's dominance and UCLA's and Oregon's surprise seasons, Stanford coach Walt Harris might actually deserve Pac-10 Coach of the Year accolades for giving the Cardinal a legitimate shot at a bowl in his first year in Palo Alto. The last time these two teams faced off when both had winning records was 1991, when Denny Green was coaching the Cardinal.  Stanford comes into this game having won four of six games and coming within a few seconds of beating then undefeated UCLA.  In a loss to USC, they gained 420 yards.  Cal has lost four of their last five games having surrendered 34 points per game in those contests.
This game should be an exciting high octane affair with both teams topping 30 points.  While Cal is favored by 3 ½ points, my ratings show this game to be a virtual tossup.  A small home field advantage in this cross bay rivalry will be the minor difference in this game.
PiRate Prediction:  Stanford 35  Cal 33
Syracuse @ Notre Dame
Three games into the 2005 season, Syracuse owned a 1-2 record.  The Orangemen couldn't move the ball against West Virginia, barely breaking in to triple digits in total yardage, but only lost 15-7.  After blanking weak Buffalo 31-0, SU took Virginia to the final gun, losing by just three points.  All three games were in the Carrier Dome.  Once the ‘Cuse went on the road, the losses became rather ugly. 
Now, SU makes its most difficult road trip of the season.  Notre Dame must continue to win impressively to qualify for a BCS bowl.  In order to do so, they must win nine games and finish in the top 12 of the BCS ratings.
Saturday will be one of those days where the Fighting Irish can do no wrong.  The only problem facing Charlie Weis and his offense will be whether to run the ball for five to six yards a pop and eat up the clock with long scoring drives or pass the ball downfield for big gains and quick scores.  I'll say he does a little of both.
Syracuse will struggle to get into double digits in this game and gain fewer than 300 total yards.  The line has Notre Dame favored by 34 ½ points, and once again my ratings agree.
PiRate Prediction: Notre Dame 44 Syracuse 10
Utah @ Brigham Young
At the beginning of the year, sports prognosticators figured this game would feature a team trying to take the top allotted MWC bowl game, while the other team fought for bowl eligibility.  They were right on the mark.  No, wait a minute; they got the teams mixed up.  Brigham Young is 6-4 and maybe one win away from taking the Las Vegas Bowl bid if Colorado State can become bowl eligible and send MWC champ TCU to a better bowl.  Utah must win in order to salvage a winning record and hope for an at-large bowl bid.
The Cougars are favored by 11 ½ points.  They have won five out of six, with the lone loss coming at Notre Dame.  Utah has dropped four out of their last six, turning the ball over 15 times in that stretch.
The ratings predict BYU will win the game but not by the point spread.
PiRate Prediction:  BYU 27  Utah 18
Northwestern @ Illinois
The Wildcats are going to a bowl, while the Illini are trying to avoid a winless Big 10 record for the second time in three years.  A Northwestern win could propel them up one bowl from the Motor City to the Music City. 
Illinois is surrendering almost 45 points and almost 490 total yards per game.  Northwestern comes into this game averaging 482 yards and 31 points per game.  It adds up to a possible 600 total yard and 50+ point day for the purple and white.  The line for this game is 14 points, and I think the Wildcats may be lucky to just beat the spread.  Illinois is going to enjoy their best offensive production of the Big 10 season against Northwestern's bend and break defense.
PiRate Prediction: Northwestern 49  Illinois 34
Minnesota @ Iowa
Here is one game where my ratings call for a different outcome than the official opening line.  Iowa is favored by 4 ½ points, but my ratings call for Minnesota to win the game in a mild upset.
In the Kirk Ferentz era, the Hawkeyes have not won a non-overtime game over any team when they surrendered 30 or more points. Minnesota is a good bet to score 30 points Saturday unless the weather becomes Iowa's biggest ally.
The Gophers average 37 points per game and more than 500 total yards per game, led by a rushing offense that is gaining close to 300 of those yards.  Iowa has a decent defense, but I don't think the Hawkeyes can shave more than a touchdown off Minnesota's score.  That means the Gophers will tally at least 30 points, and bring into play the 30-point factor.  I predict Glen Mason's Gophers will finish the regular season at 8-3.
PiRate Prediction:  Minnesota 30  Iowa 28
Missouri @ Kansas State
The Tigers can win the Big 12 North with a win over the Wildcats combine with a Colorado loss to Nebraska six days later.  The lines makers think it won't happen.  Kansas State is favored by a point even though they have lost five consecutive games.
In a lower scoring game than average, I look for Mizzou to force Colorado to win their finale.
PiRate Prediction: Missouri 21  Kansas State 17
Alabama-Birmingham @ U T E P
Mike Price's Miners must win three more times to set up another great Liberty Bowl match with probably T CU or Fresno State.  Watson Brown's Blazers cannot afford to lose another game; one more loss guarantees a losing season.
UTEP is favored by eight points.  If you look at the stats, you will find these teams are almost dead even.  UAB averages 139 yards rushing and 306 yards passing, while UTEP averages 129 yards rushing and 302 yards passing.  UAB yields 150 yards rushing and 205 yards passing per game, while UTEP gives up 150 yards rushing and 206 yards passing.  The two teams' strengths of schedule are comparable.  So why is UAB 4-5, while UTEP is 8-1?  The Miners have been more consistent, while the Blazers have bordered on the extreme.
Give me the consistent team in this late season match.  UTEP should win by double digits and move one step closer to an 11-1 regular season
PiRate Prediction: UTEP  35  UAB 23
Cincinnati @ South Florida
This game is important because South Florida can still claim a BCS bowl bid by winning out.  They host West Virginia December 3rd, and if they can beat Cincinnati and Connecticut, they will face the Mountaineers for the Big East Championship.
Cincinnati can still become bowl eligible by winning this game and the following week's game at Rutgers.  Ironically, most prognosticators picked this game to be a battle to avoid last place in the conference.  Both USF coach Jim Leavitt and UC coach Mark Dantonio should be praised for their fantastic results.
USF is favored by 19 points, and they should come close to matching that number.
PiRate Prediction:  South Florida 34  Cincinnati 17
Oklahoma @ Texas Tech
Six weeks ago, this game looked like a possible Red Raider blowout.  Now, it appears to be a battle for the Cotton Bowl.  Texas Tech is favored by 7 ½ points, and while I think they will win the game, it will be closer than that.  The Sooners' running game is back on track, and they could pull off the upset in Lubbock.  Even if they come up short, I think they will cover.
PiRate Prediction:  Texas Tech 28  Oklahoma 24
Virginia Tech @ Virginia
The Hokies have had a week off to lick the wounds they suffered as a result of the Hurricane that hit Blacksburg.  They enter this game as a 7 ½ point favorite.  Virginia is one of the most improved teams since the opening weeks of the season.  They could put a scare into Tech for a half, but I see the Hokies pulling away in the final 30 minutes for the win and the cover.
PiRate Prediction:  Virginia Tech 23  Virginia 14

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