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#FITSPicks: NCAAF September 30

Our college football panel weighs in …

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Welcome to the fifth installment of #FITSPicks …

Each weekend of the 2017 college football season, our panel of experts has been offering up their predictions for both of the Palmetto State’s major college in-state matchups as well as three of the best Top 25 tilts on tap.  They’re graded in two areas: Whether they correctly pick the winner of each game, and whether they win against the spread.

How have they fared so far?  Let’s take a look …

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#FITSPICKS: SEPTEMBER 2

#FITSPICKS: SEPTEMBER 9

#FITSPICKS: SEPTEMBER 16

#FITSPICKS: SEPTEMBER 23

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Our intrepid and train smoke hot ex-columnist Liz Reardon returns for the second week in a row, having trounced the competition last weekend (and letting them know about it).  We’re also joined for a fourth week in a row by the author of our favorite college football Twitter account, Woody Whitehurst.

Liz and Woody are joined, as always, by our founding editor Will Folks and Pee Dee prognosticator Brant Branham.  Branham continues to enjoy a one-game lead over Folks in picking games against the spread, while Folks has a one-game advantage in overall record.

As of this writing, though, Reardon enjoys a slim overall advantage in both categories.

Can she keep her lead this week?

To the Week 5 matchups …

SOUTH CAROLINA (3-1, 1-1 SEC) @ TEXAS A&M (3-1, 1-0 SEC)

(Via @AggieFootball)

Kyle Field, College Station TX – 7:30 p.m. EDT – SEC Network
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Texas A&M -7.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Texas A&M 60.2 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (17-8, 14-11 ATS) – TEXAS A&M 37 SOUTH CAROLINA 24

To say Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin is on the hot seat is putting it mildly, although a completely guaranteed big bank contract surely helps make that seat bearable.  The boys from College Station found yet another way to beat Arkansas last week, 50-43 in overtime, and while a “win is a win” the Cocks struggled to sneak by Louisiana Tech 17-16 on a last second field goal.

Young South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley continues to improve and ended up throwing for 295 yards last week, most of it late with the game in the lurch.  The Aggies’ pass defense is suspect and Bentley should be able to get the ball to deep threat Bryan Edwards and tight end Hayden Hurst.  South Carolina though continues to search for a consistent running game, though, averaging only 100 per game.  That must improve, along with scoring production in the red zone.

Aggies true freshman quarterback Kellen Mond had his best outing of the year last week, and wideout Christian Kirk, a potential All-American, had 5 catches for 110 yards and returned a kickoff 100 yards for another TD (Deebo Samuel type numbers). A&M’s running game is sold especially between the tackles, averaging 260 yards per game led by backs Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams.  The Gamecocks’ defense is only giving up 133 yards per game on the ground so something has to give here.  South Carolina also has to figure out how to get off the field ranking 109th nationally on third down conversions.

A&M is an impressive 24-11 ATS in September under Sumlin before their usual collapse in the second half of the season.  The Aggies host Alabama at home next week and better not get caught looking ahead this week – I don’t think they will.  They need a strong win at home, and a loss at home to South Carolina could mean Sumlin doesn’t make it to see the Tide roll in next week.  I think the Aggies have too much for the roosters, though, and win and cover.

LIZ REARDON (10-5, 8-7 ATS) – TEXAS A&M 38 SOUTH CAROLINA 21

Am I a bad fan if I say I just hope it’s not a massacre?  Am I bad fan if I don’t even think we’ll cover the spread?  Oh well.  Miracles happen every day, but I don’t see one occurring in College Station unfortunately.  For the first time ever, I’m betting against the Cocks.  Doesn’t mean I won’t pull for them to surprise me!

WOODY WHITEHURST (13-7, 12-8 ATS) – TEXAS A&M 31 SOUTH CAROLINA 20

Texas A&M provided one of my favorite moments in college football: Their 52-28 beatdown of the Gamecocks to open the 2014 season.  I’m afraid this one won’t be that bad for Carolina, but Aggies will win.

WILL FOLKS (16-9, 11-14 ATS) – TEXAS A&M 32 SOUTH CAROLINA 24

I’m with Liz on this one.  I want to pick the upset … I just don’t see it happening.  Maybe if South Carolina had Deebo Samuel in the lineup along with its full complement of offensive linemen.  Maybe then.  But Samuel is out, and so are right tackle Zack Bailey and right guard Cory Helms.

Meanwhile Texas A&M is loaded with offensive talent and has a decisive special teams advantage over South Carolina.  Look for the Aggies to make it four in a row over the Gamecocks.

FINAL SCORE: TEXAS A&M 24 SOUTH CAROLINA 17

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#2 CLEMSON (4-0, 2-0 ACC) #12 VA TECH (4-0, 0-0 ACC)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Lane Stadium, Blacksburg VA – 8:00 p.m. EDT – ABC
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Clemson -7
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Clemson 70.7 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (17-8, 14-11 ATS) – CLEMSON 38 VIRGINIA TECH 27

This game of unbeaten teams should be a good one.  Two of the nation’s top defensive coordinators face off, both with strong units. Clemson is 4th in scoring defense and the Hokies are sixth.  Tech has a balanced offense that’s ranked 31st in country in rushing and passing. Receiver Cam Phillips burned the Tigers last year in the ACC Championship game for 92 yards and a TD, although the Tigers held on for a 42-35 win.

The Tigers looked less than stellar on offense through the first three quarters last week before exploding in the fourth quarter to blow out Boston College.  Kelly Bryant has proven himself as a duel threat quarterback and the Tigers’ committee backfield seems to have now settled in on Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne as the primary ball carriers.  Deon Cain is a proven big play wideout, Hunter Renfrow is a top quality possession receiver, and the remainder of the talented receiver corp seems to be coming on. Biggest question for Tigers on the scoring side is the new field goal kicker.

The Tigers have won 11 straight on the road and are 5-2 against the spread on the road in the last seven away from Memorial Stadium.  I think Clemson’s defense causes lots of problems for Tech’s redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson and Tigers win and cover on the road.

LIZ REARDON (10-5, 8-7 ATS) – VIRGINIA TECH 28 CLEMSON 24

I circled this one in red weeks ago. I’m taking the Hokies because I honestly think their defense is every bit as good as Clemson’s and their offense is slightly better. Plus, Lane Stadium at night? Get out of here. This one is going to be good.

WOODY WHITEHURST (13-7, 12-8 ATS) – CLEMSON 35 VIRGINIA TECH 24

Clemson’s early struggles against Boston College should make me a bit nervous about this game, but I can’t get past Virginia Tech fans doing the hokey pokey during games. Unrelated but important: Hokies’ defensive coordinator Bud Foster looks like Tim McGraw.

WILL FOLKS (16-9, 11-14 ATS) – VIRGINIA TECH 20 CLEMSON 19

I’m with Liz again.  I think Tech is better than anyone expects … and better than anyone Clemson has played this year.  It gives me great consternation to bet against Brent Venables‘ awe-inspiring Tiger defense, but if anybody is going to knock them off it’s going to be the Hokies … at home … at night …

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 31 VIRGINIA TECH 17

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#7 GEORGIA (4-0, 1-0 SEC) @ TENNESSEE (3-1, 0-1 SEC)

(Via @FootballUGA)

Neyland Stadium, Knoxville TN – 3:30 p.m. EDT – CBS
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Georgia -9.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Georgia 70.1 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (17-8, 14-11 ATS) – GEORGIA 34 TENNESSEE 21

These two schools know each other well having played 46 times with UT leading the series 23-21-2.  Tennessee running back John Kelly leads the Vols’ offensive attack with 450 yards and six scores this season, but Tennessee’s quarterback play is still questionable to me.

The Tennessee defense is allowing 282 yard per game which should have Bulldog senior tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel chomping at the bit.  Dawgs’ quarterback Jake Fromm plays beyond his years and I expect him to manage the game and let the ground game backs take control.

Tennessee is 11-1 straight up over its last twelve home games but are only 5-7 against the spread. Giving points away on the road always makes me doubt myself, but I look for the Bulldogs to come out hungry for revenge after blowing a 20-point lead in a loss in Athens last year.  I’ll take Georgia to win and cover.

LIZ REARDON (10-5, 8-7 ATS) – GEORGIA 31 TENNESSEE 21

I don’t pull for either of these teams. I have a self-imposed ban from going to either Athens or Knoxville. (Seriously? Could they squeeze any more asses into Neyland stadium? Gross.) I think this will be a close one, but Georgia’s defense is too much for the Vols in the end.

WOODY WHITEHURST (13-7, 12-8 ATS) – GEORGIA 30 TENNESSEE 17

Fresh off the heels of their “Championship of Life,” I expected more from the Vols this year.  Georgia mangled Mississippi State last week and I don’t think Tennessee wants any part of the Dawgs.

WILL FOLKS (16-9, 11-14 ATS) – GEORGIA 33 TENNESSEE 20

Georgia played its most complete game of the season last week and proved many of its doubters (myself included) wrong.  Mississippi State is a good football team – and Georgia absolutely eviscerated the Bulldogs.  This game has been nip-and-tuck in each of the last four seasons with three of those games being decided by a field goal.  I think Georgia breaks that trend with a decisive victory in this game, raising the temperature for Volunteers coach Butch Jones.

FINAL SCORE: GEORGIA 41 TENNESSEE 0

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#24 MSU (3-1, 1-1 SEC) @ #13 AUBURN (3-1, 1-0 ACC)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn AL – 7:30 p.m. EDT – ESPNU
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Auburn -8
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Auburn 63.4 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (17-8, 14-11 ATS) – AUBURN 28 MISSISSIPPI STATE 23

After an impressive win over LSU two weeks ago, the Bulldogs looked hungover in losing on the road to Georgia.  At Athens, Mississippi State’s dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was held in check, but I look for him to bounce back this week.  The Bulldogs must also get running back Aires Williams going or the score could be as ugly as last week.

Auburn looks to have recovered some from their disappointing loss on the road against Clemson. The Tigers’ offensive line has improved and quarterback Jarrett Stidham is getting rid of the ball quicker after getting pounded for eleven sacks by Clemson. Tailback Kamryn Pettway ran for 169 and three scores last year against MSU and should have another good day this year.  The Bulldogs are 4-1 against the spread against Auburn in their last five matchups and although I don’t think they win – I think they can cover.

LIZ REARDON (10-5, 8-7 ATS) – MISSISSIPPI STATE 31 AUBURN 30

Up until last week, Mississippi State’s offense looked strong. Did they have a bad week or is Georgia’s defense that good?  Who knows?  But I hate pulling for a Tiger of any kind so I’m going with MSU. I think it’s close. Hail State!

WOODY WHITEHURST (13-7, 12-8 ATS) – AUBURN 28 MISSISSIPPI STATE 17

While researching this game, I was shocked to learn that Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham survived being sacked 47 times against Clemson.  MSU took the kind of beating last week that can sometimes lead to two losses and fainting Kevin Steele has the Auburn defense playing really well.

WILL FOLKS (16-9, 11-14 ATS) – MISSISSIPPI STATE 27 AUBURN 24

I don’t know what happened to Mississippi State last week against Georgia but my sense is it won’t happen again.  I suspect the Bulldogs come out pissed.  Watch out for an upset on the Plains tonight!

FINAL SCORE: AUBURN 49 MISSISSIPPI STATE 10

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NORTH CAROLINA (1-3, 0-1 ACC) @ GEORGIA TECH (2-1, 1-0 ACC)

(Via: @GeorgiaTechFB)

Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta GA – 12:00 p.m. EDT – ESPN2
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Georgia Tech -10
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Georgia Tech 67.1 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (17-8, 14-11 ATS) – GEORGIA TECH 34 NORTH CAROLINA 20

The Heels are 1-2-1 against the spread this season, and are coming off a disappointing 10-point home loss to Duke last week.  Meanwhile the Wreck fumbled its way (five fumbles, four of them lost) to a 35-17 win over a so-so Pitt team.  North Carolina did get a strong performance from wideout Anthony Ratliff-Williams last week with 125 yards receiving, and quarterback Chazz Surratt has completed 63 percent of his passes while throwing for five scores and only one interception so far this year.  The Heels will have to rely on those two to have a chance to win in Atlanta.

Tech’s option game pounded Pitt last week with running back KirVonte Benson rushing for 196 yards and two scores and quarterback TaQuon Marshall adding 112 yards and a rushing score.

UNC has a good punter who could make Tech have to grind out long drives to get points, but that suits their style well, as they rank fourth in the country in time of possession.

The Yellow Jackets are 5-0 against the spread in their last five games and 5-1 against the spread in their last six at Bobby Dodd Stadium.  The number (spread) on this game looks kinda big but if the Jackets can not fumble themselves to death I think they win and cover at home.

LIZ REARDON (10-5, 8-7 ATS) – GEORGIA TECH 38 NORTH CAROLINA 21

The Rambling Wreck and that damn option offense is going to confuse the hell out of a less-than-stellar North Carolina squad.  And that’s fine with me, because there is only room for one Carolina in my heart. Go Jackets!

WOODY WHITEHURST (13-7, 12-8 ATS) – GEORGIA TECH 21 NORTH CAROLINA 10

I think the Tar Heels have more players injured than they have available for today’s game – and they just don’t seem to have it this year.  Meanwhile, Paul Johnson‘s offense is so efficient at burning clock that I’m convinced both teams may only have four possessions.  Avert your eyes, college football fans.

WILL FOLKS (16-9, 11-14 ATS) – GEORGIA TECH 24 NORTH CAROLINA 14

I think the fact this game is being played at noon on ESPN 2 is an dead giveaway.  Seriously.  Why is this game even in the mix?  I’ll be totally honest.  I was lazy and didn’t want to format this friggin’ article on a Friday afternoon (which would have enabled our experts to weigh in on an absolutely thrilling PAC-12 matchup between Washington State and Southern Cal).  So here we are talking about a “white out” at Bobby Dodd Stadium and Larry Fedora‘s increasingly hot seat in Chapel Hill.  Forgive me, sports fans. I will try to do better next week.

FINAL SCORE: GEORGIA TECH 33 NORTH CAROLINA 7

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Banner via Travis Bell Photography