Fearless Predictions

SATURDAY'S FEATURED GAME

 
LSU Tigers NCAA Football Team No. 2 LSU (3-0)
at No. 16 West Virginia (3-0)

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Line: LSU -5.5
West Virginia Mountaineers NCAA Football Team

The 2011 college football season has been terrific so far with several great games and heart-stopping performances, but the on-the-field fun has been blown away by the earthquake happening among the conferences with the realignment and expansion news changing by the hour. For West Virginia, it’s limbo time as Syracuse and Pitt go off to the ACC and the Big East is left trying to figure out what’s next.

The Mountaineers might be feeling a bit left out, with the program not even being a rumor to move anywhere, and now it’s left to take on an us-against-the-world attitude both on and off the field. On it, a win over LSU would suddenly put the BCS Championship in play and would catapult first year head coach Dana Holgorsen into stardom. This will be the hot team next week if it can get the job done on primetime national television with the whole sports world watching.

But LSU is the hot team right now. The Tigers not only manhandled Oregon to all but end the Pac-12's relevance for the season, but they showed last week against a tough and explosive Mississippi State team that getting tough and nasty isn’t a problem.

They’ve been brutish on the lines, mistake free in key situations, and dominant defensively with the look of a national champion. It could be argued that no one has two stronger or more impressive wins than the victories over the Ducks and Bulldogs, and both were away from Death Valley. Now it’s time to walk into another hostile environment against a desperate team trying to make a statement with the season all but on the line. Of course West Virginia wants to win the Big East title and go to a BCS game, but this is it. This is the chance at respectability, and this, in every sense of the concept considering the goofy college football post-season, is a playoff game.

Last year, West Virginia was 3-0 with a dominant defense and strong offense going into the date at LSU. The game was there for the taking with Tiger quarterback Jordan Jefferson throwing two picks and LSU committing 12 penalties, but the Mountaineers turned it over two times, failed to get the running game moving, and stalled in the fourth quarter of a tough 20-14 loss. This year’s team is more explosive under Holgorsen, but this year’s LSU squad is far better, too.

Why LSU might win: The run defense is playing at a whole other level, and the Mountaineers don’t have the lines to hold up. The days of the Rich Rodriguez offense with Pat White and Steve Slaton running wild are over. While Holgorsen made a point of getting the ground game going when he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, he hasn't gotten much of anything so far from a running attack that's averaging a miserable 79 yards per game and can't seem to find any sort of a groove. The offensive line is full of veterans and has enough talent to be better, but it's not blowing anyone off the ball so far.

Why West Virginia might win: The return game has to be phenomenal. LSU's coverage teams have been special so far, forcing minus yards overall on punt returns and not allowing a thing on kickoff returns. West Virginia, though, has gotten explosive performances out of Tavon Austin, who not only caught 11 passes for 122 yards against Maryland last week, but is fourth in the nation averaging 22 yards per punt return and is 16th in kickoff returns, averaging 29.44 yards per try. If the Mountaineers are going to have any shot, they're going to need something special like a big return or a big defensive play. They're also going to need to bomb away.

What to watch for: What happened to the West Virginia pass rush? Last year the Mountaineers finished second in the nation behind Boise State with 45 sacks while finishing second in run defense and fourth in total defense. Bruce Irvin finished second in the nation behind Da'Quan Bowers in sacks with 14, while Julian Miller added 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks. So far this year Irvin has just one sack, and it's the team’s only one in the first three games, while Miller has just two assisted tackles for loss. That's not going to work. LSU's offensive line has been stellar so far, but it hasn't been a brick wall in pass protection. Tiger quarterback Jarrett Lee has kept the big mistakes to a minimum, mostly because he hasn't been under a ton of pressure and hasn't had to press. That has to change this week as the Mountaineers have to dial up the pass rush and have to be in the backfield all game long.

Prediction:

  LSU 27, West Virginia 13
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

NO. 7 OKLA. STATE AT N0. 8 TEXAS A&M

 
Oklahoma State Cowboys No. 7 Oklahoma State (3-0) at No. 8 Texas A&M (2-0)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Texas A&M -4
Texas A&M Aggies

Over the last five years this has been one of the Big 12's most entertaining rivalries, and it's one of the league's best kept secrets. It might be better right now than Oklahoma vs. Texas. Oklahoma State has won the last three years, and while it blew away Texas A&M, 56-28, in 2008, it came up with wins over the last two years by a total of eight points, while the Aggies won the 2006 and 2007 matchups by one point each. This year's game should be just as close and entertaining as four of the last five, and now, it should have a say in the Big 12 title chase, a spot for a BCS game, and possibly, a lot more. By far, this is the best Texas A&M team in years. The Aggies are loaded at the skill spots, the defensive front is a terror, and there's speed and athleticism across the board to be able to not just come up with a win over an Oklahoma State, an Oklahoma, or a Texas, but beat all three of the big boys. This is a different team than the one that lost in Stillwater last year 38-35, going on a run of nine wins in its last ten games while playing with a different swagger and attitude than in the past. This is the test the program has to pass – after years of disappointing failures in the big moments – but it doesn't stop here. Next week is a fun date against Arkansas, and then the rest of the Big 12 season kicks in. There might be games on the road against Texas Tech and Oklahoma ahead, but it all has to start with a win over the Cowboys.

Prediction:

  Oklahoma State 38, Texas A&M 36
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

NO. 11 FLA. STATE AT NO. 21 CLEMSON

 
Florida State Seminoles No. 11 Florida State (2-1) at No. 21 Clemson (3-0)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Clemson -2
Clemson Tigers

No rest for the weary. After playing highly-charged and closely-watched non-conference games, Florida State and Clemson meet in a league game with serious implications in the Atlantic Division race. The Tigers are coming off their biggest victory in the Dabo Swinney era, snapping defending champion Auburn’s 17-game winning streak, 38-24. It was important on so many fronts, especially for a school that’s had a stigma of coming up short in marquee games. On a broader scope, Clemson has vaulted into the title discussion in an Atlantic Coast Conference that has about five or six serious contenders. The Seminoles got their shot at top-ranked Oklahoma in primetime, falling just short, 23-13, in a game that was tied in the final quarter. Even in losing, they acquitted themselves well against an opponent that had embarrassed them a year earlier. While Florida State’s national championship hopes have faded, the school remains the favorite to win the conference. However, an injury to the non-throwing shoulder of QB EJ Manuel will dampen enthusiasm until he gets a clean bill of health. With expectations so high in 2011, Florida State can ill-afford a 2-2 start and an early hole in the divisional race. That said, this is a very tough spot for the ‘Noles. They’re hitting the road following an emotional loss to the top-ranked team, and have an injured starting quarterback. Clemson, to the contrary, is hot, home and as confident as it’s been in years.

Prediction:

  Clemson 28, Florida State 24
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

NO. 14 ARKANSAS VS. NO. 3 ALABAMA

 
Arkansas Razorbacks No. 14 Arkansas (3-0) at Alabama (3-0)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Alabama -11.5
Alabama Crimson Tide

The Hogs have been close, but they haven't been quite able to get over the hump against the Tide losing five of the last six in the series. This year, they have to show that the production can keep on rolling, and it's time to show that they have the staying power to be every bit the SEC West player that LSU, Bama, and Auburn are. Of course, Arkansas proved last year that it has the talent and ability to become a powerhouse, going to the Sugar Bowl while Alabama ended up in the Capital One, but a win over a top three team on the road would turn a corner for Bobby Petrino's program. Beating LSU last year was big, but the losses to Alabama and Auburn in the first half of the season took the national title dream out of the equation. Beating the Tide this year will kick-start the season into something special while proving the Hogs have reloading power. Alabama is also trying to retool and reload, and while the defense is already there, not having Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Greg McElroy, and James Carpenter has been a problem for an offense that's been fine, but nothing special. The Tide might be 21st in the nation in total yards and 24th in scoring, but playing Kent State and North Texas has had a lot to do with that and the production has been inconsistent. Beating Penn State on the road was nice, but it wasn't exactly an awe-inspiring performance.

Prediction:

  Alabama 27, Arkansas 17
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

MISSOURI VS. NO. 1 OKLAHOMA

 
Missouri Tigers Missouri (2-1) at No. 1 Oklahoma (2-0) on FX
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma -21.5
Oklahoma Sooners

Missouri stopped an eight-game losing streak to Oklahoma last year beating the then-BCS No. 1 ranked Sooners in a scintillating 36-27 win. Now it might be payback time. Or ... Oklahoma might be too big to care about a silly grudge. Mizzou gets another No. 1-ranked OU again, this time in the human polls, but things are different. These Sooners are coming off a very tough, emotional road win over Florida State. Although this might be a big game to open up the new Big 12 season, the Sooners aren't going to try to win just because they're grouchy over losing in Columbia last year. They're going to try to win this game because they're shooting for a national title. The Big 12 has been terrific so far, with just two non-conference losses among all ten teams, but OU appears to have the make-up and the talent to get through a tough weekly schedule. For Mizzou, it could really use a huge, splashy road win to show that it belongs among the elite of the Big 12. After giving away the Arizona State game in overtime two weeks ago, getting blown out by OU would all but kill the season. Just 4-31 against their old Big 8 foe going back to 1970, the program hasn't had too much luck in the series, and hasn't won in Norman since 1966. No one is giving Gary Pinkel's team a shot, but the talent is there and the athletes are in place to make this a battle.

Prediction:

  Oklahoma 41, Missouri 23
Complete Fearless Prediction | GameTrax

 

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