Fearless Predictions

SATURDAY'S FEATURED GAME

 
Oklahoma Sooners NCAA Football Team No. 1 Oklahoma (1-0)
at No. 5 Florida State (2-0)

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Line: Oklahoma -3.5
Florida State Seminoles NCAA Football Team

It's not too insanely over-the-top to suggest that this could be one of the biggest games for the future of college football.

Florida State appears to be on the verge of being really good again, with head coach Jimbo Fisher putting together some tremendous recruiting classes and coming off a strong building-block season. With all the expansion talk and all the rumors and speculation about various conference realignment scenarios, Florida State is one of the key parts to the overall puzzle, and if it can knock off No. 1 Oklahoma and be in the national title chase, it will prove that the program really might be back to form. It's all about timing, and the school's bargaining position would be greatly enhanced with what would be the biggest win since beating Virginia Tech for the 2005 ACC title.

For OU, this is its chance to make its own statement of dominance. The Pac-12 already wants the Sooners, but a win – remember, it's all about timing and it’s all about pumping up the images of the programs – would do even more for bragging rights and positioning.

Of course, all the off-the-field aspects are just about the speculation. The fact is that the winner of this game will control its own destiny for the national championship. OU is already in a top-two spot and will play for it all by winning out, whereas Florida State would almost certainly move into the top two with a win and a 13-0 season.

The Sooners have had two weeks off to prepare, and they get Missouri to kick off the Big 12 season next week, while Florida State blew away ULM and Charleston Southern by a combined score of 98-10 and starts out a three-game road trip next week at Clemson. OU is 5-1 in the series with three of the wins coming in classic Orange Bowls, and the lone loss coming in the 1965 Gator Bowl.

Why Oklahoma might win: The Florida State pass protection has been a bit spotty over the first two games. Part of that is because the line is trying to protect a mobile quarterback in E.J. Manuel, and part it is because the line hasn't been that strong. The running game wasn't able to do much against ULM and Charleston Southern, getting stuffed for 92 yards by the Warhawks in the season opener, and the hope is for the front five to be fully jelled and ready after two shaky weeks. OU's defensive front is nasty in the interior and fast on the outside, and if the FSU line has to prove it can hold its own better than it did early on. The bigger problem for FSU could be turnover margin; the Noles can't win if they don’t at least play the Sooners to even there.

Why Florida State might win: The OU back seven is still suspect. The secondary gave up 271 yards in the opener against Tulsa, and while most of those game in comeback mode, the chances were there for big plays. The depleted linebacking corps is still good despite the death of Austin Box and the injury to Travis Lewis, but it gave up a few decent runs to the Golden Hurricane and missed a few stops. FSU has to play this game fast, fast, fast and it has to get its skill players on the move at the OU linebackers. Everyone on the Sooner defense can run, but the safeties are just okay, and the chances will be there for Manuel to connect on the deep ball if he gets time to work. He'll have to be patient, but if he can hit the open man, he'll be able to nail OU on the post pattern for a few home runs.

What to watch for: Is Manuel ready for the big stage, and does FSU have the firepower to keep up in a shootout? One of the nation's top recruits of 2008, Manuel is a 6-5, 234-pound playmaker with a unique array of physical skills, but he has yet to show he can put up big numbers in a really big game. He was good against South Carolina in the bowl win, completing 11-of-15 passes, but he only threw for 84 yards and a touchdown. Now after throwing for 581 yards and six touchdowns with two picks in his first two games, he has to make every right decision, and he has to take advantage of every opportunity while keeping the mistakes to a minimum. This game is on him, and if he doesn't play well, and if he has problems turning the ball over, FSU can't win.

Prediction:

  Florida State 34, Oklahoma 31
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

NO. 17 OHIO STATE AT MIAMI

 
Ohio State Buckeyes No. 17 Ohio State (2-0) at Miami (0-1)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Line: Miami -3
Miami Hurricanes

The rematch from the classic national championship game in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl sounds like it should be a massive showdown between two superpowers, but instead it has become the Bad Boy Bowl. Ohio State appears to be coming out of the other side of its controversy relatively unscathed, considering the alternative could be a USC-like coma penalty for all the shenanigans going on under Jim Tressel’s watch, and now it needs a big, splashy win to show that the Luke Fickell era is full steam ahead and Buckeye football is still Buckeye football. The problem is that beating Miami now might not be a big, splashy win. There's still a sense that Miami should be good, but it's coming off a 7-6 season and is hamstrung by suspensions from the Nevin Shapiro fiasco that’s hanging like a Sword of Damocles over the program. In some ways, this might be the program's last big hurrah before everything comes to a head. The Hurricanes aren't good enough to win the ACC title, already 0-1 in conference play after losing to Maryland in the opening weekend, and are a hundred miles away from when they ruled the college football world with a dizzying array of talent. However, if they can beat Ohio State, even an Ohio State that’s treading water after dealing with suspensions and inconsistencies of its own, that might be enough to show that new head coach Al Golden might be the one who can return the program to glory ... eventually.

Prediction:

  Ohio State 30, Miami 19
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

TENNESSEE AT NO. 16 FLORIDA

 
Tennessee Volunteers Tennessee (2-0) at No. 16 Florida (2-0)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Florida -9.5
Florida Gators

It’s time for this rivalry to be interesting again. Oh sure, Lane Kiffin tried to poke the bear a few years back, and there have been some decent battles, but Florida has owned the Vols, winning six straight with blowouts in the last four. After the way Tennessee has started the season, though, it looks like it's ready to turn things around. It's been a long, slow climb back for a Tennessee program that not all that long ago was as talented and as important as any in college football. A dip in recruiting, a few problems with the NCAA, and the rise of Florida into a superpower of superpowers have pushed the Vols down the pecking order, but head coach Derek Dooley has put together a team good enough to challenge for the SEC East title again. It might not be a world-beater like LSU or Alabama, but it has speed, explosion, and the right players in key spots to start winning games like this again on a regular basis. For too long, Tennessee has gotten by on beating the mediocre teams on the schedule and doing just enough to get to a minor bowl game. If Dooley can stop the slide against Florida and pull out the win, which would be the first in Gainesville since 2003, all of a sudden, the SEC spotlight that’s been shining so bright on the West and South Carolina will move over a bit. But there’s no real pressure on Dooley. Yes, he needs to start winning the big games, but there’s still an understanding that he’s rebuilding a program that needed time to get back to a national title level.

Prediction:

  Florida 38, Tennessee 27
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

NO. 15 MICHIGAN STATE AT NOTRE DAME

 
Michigan State Spartans No. 15 Michigan State (2-0) at Notre Dame (0-2)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Notre Dame -4.5
Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame has been the story of 2011 so far, with an offensive explosion counterbalanced by fatal, disastrous moments turning a team good enough to be 2-0 and in the hunt for a BCS game into a hot mess thanks to ten turnovers, 17 penalties, and inexplicable defensive lapses. Head coach Brian Kelly got in trouble for a red-faced tantrum in the loss to South Florida, he made a major quarterback change, and the pressure is tightening on a team that’s within an eyelash of being unbeaten. So far, though, all that matters is that the Irish are 0-2. From South Florida's defensive stops with its back against the wall, to Denard Robinson's magic in an all-timer of a night game last Saturday night, it’s been a wild ride so far, and if recent history against Michigan State is any indication, it's about to get a whole lot bumpier. The Spartans have had Notre Dame's number, winning ten of the last 14 matchups, but four of the last six game were decided by three points and 11 of the last 13 have been decided by a touchdown or less. That includes last season's classic -- a 34-31 Michigan State win that came complete with a fake field goal for the win, and was followed up by Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio’s heart scare. Saturday's rematch could be a season-definer. Michigan State is loaded and ready to show that it deserves to be in the discussion of top Big Ten teams, and Notre Dame is ready to come up with a win to let everyone around the program exhale.

Prediction:

  Notre Dame 38, Michigan State 34
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

SYRACUSE VS. USC

 
Syracuse Orangemen Syracuse (2-0) at USC (2-0) on FX
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Line: USC -16.5
USC Trojans

USC has won both of its games, but not many attaboys in the process. The Trojans needed a late stop to hold off Minnesota in the opener, 19-17, and a blocked field goal attempt at the end of regulation to avoid overtime with Utah in Week 2. While a win is a win, Troy's inability to put teams is cause for concern. It hasn't caught up with the team yet, but that's inevitable when playing a schedule that has few breathers. For Syracuse, this first trip to the Coliseum since 1924 is basically a lottery ticket. Since an upset isn't expected the risk is low, but the reward for a shocker would be immense. The Orange has had its own problems in the two weeks of the season, needing to rally at home to beat Wake Forest on opening night and Rhode Island last Saturday. The latest near miss is a particular concern, since the Rams aren't even graded a contender in the Colonial Athletic Association. USC RB Marc Tyler, who led the Trojans in rushing and scoring in 2010, returned from suspension to quickly regain his spot atop the depth chart. The senior, who was benched for the Minnesota game, ran 24 times for 113 yards and a score. The most physical runner on the depth chart, he gives the program a thumper to hammer opposing and moves the sticks in short yardage.

Prediction:

  USC 27, Syracuse 13
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

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