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#FITSPicks: NCAAF October 7

Season hitting its stride …

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Welcome to the sixth installment of #FITSPicks … our first October edition.

The season is hitting its stride, and we’re starting to see which crystal balls are the clearest when it comes to picking winners this college football season.  As the thermometer drops in the weeks to come, we’ll start getting an even better read on that.

Each weekend this fall, our panel of experts has been offering up its 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.  Our experts are 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

#FITSPICKS: SEPTEMBER 30

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Last week was dominated by Woody Whitehurst, who not only crushed it calling the outcome of games but performed with equal aplomb against the spread.  The author of our favorite college football Twitter account, Whitehurst can be counted on to needle fans of the University of South Carolina football program with his biting, tongue-in-cheek predictions.

Speaking of Gamecock fans, our intrepid and inestimably beautiful ex-columnist Liz Reardon held steady last week after a breakout performance two weeks ago.  She currently has the best overall record on our panel, which we’re sure she will remind us of heading into this weekend’s action.

Liz and Woody are joined, as always, by our founding editor Will Folks and Pee Dee prognosticator Brant Branham.  Branham now holds a one-game lead over Folks overall and an even bigger lead in picking games against the spread.

As of this writing, though, Whitehurst enjoys a slim overall advantage in picking against the spread.

Can he expand on it this week?

To the Week 6 matchups …

ARKANSAS (2-2, 0-1 SEC) @ SOUTH CAROLINA (3-2, 1-2 SEC)

(Via @RazorbackFB)

Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia SC – 4:00 p.m. EDT – SEC Network
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Arkansas -3
ESPN Matchup Predictor: South Carolina 66.7 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (17-8, 14-11 ATS) – ARKANSAS 30 SOUTH CAROLINA 24

South Carolina comes off a disappointing loss at Texas A&M, blowing a 10-point second half lead.  The Gamecocks are now 3-2 straight-up and 3-2 against the spread, but their offensive line is all beat up and the running game is averaging less than 100 yards a game.  These two factors have led to time of possession and third down conversion woes.  Against the Aggies, the Cocks faced third and nine (or more) six times and only converting on two of thirteen third downs overall.  Quarterback Jake Bentley is third in the SEC in passing yards per game, but he has to have more time to throw than he did last week to be effective.  Bentley was sacked seven times and was running for his life the entire second half against the Aggies.

On the defensive side of the ball Carolina looks tired and they should be – they’ve defended 378 snaps this year which ranks 121st nationally.

As for the Hogs they like to play old school smash mouth style, with a few quirks – shotgun passing and jet sweeps.  Quarterback Austin Allen is serviceable but hasn’t proven to be as good as his older brother was.  Famous author Thomas Wolfe once said “You Can’t Go Home Again,” we’ll see if South Carolina transfer running back David Williams is buying that.  Williams has 207 yards and four touchdowns on 43 carries for the Razorbacks.  His four rushing scores is as many as Carolina has all season, by the way.

The Hogs lead the all-time series with the Gamecocks 13-9.  I think that changes to 14-9 with a win (and a cover).

LIZ REARDON (10-5, 8-7 ATS) – SOUTH CAROLINA 24 ARKANSAS 20

I really don’t know what to think about my Gamecocks. Sometimes the team looks somewhat cohesive and the offense produces some explosive plays, but those moments seem to be too few and too far between. We’ve yet to play a complete game, in my opinion.  If our offensive line can give quarterback Jake Bentley time to develop a play – and our defense continues to play well – we can easily win this game at home.  But will it happen? I don’t know. I think it will be close. I hate betting against my own team, so I’m taking the Cocks!

WOODY WHITEHURST (13-7, 12-8 ATS) – ARKANSAS 30 SOUTH CAROLINA 27

This game could play a major role in the battle for the bottom of the SEC.  South Carolina offensive coordinator Kurt Roper‘s play calling is becoming predictable and Jake Bentley is running for his life every game.  Not really sure which way to go this game, so I’ll pick the Razorbacks out of spite..

WILL FOLKS (16-9, 11-14 ATS) – ARKANSAS 27 SOUTH CAROLINA 17

South Carolina’s collapse against Texas A&M last week was truly frightening to behold.  The Gamecocks have become completely one dimensional on offense, and opposing defensive coordinators know it.  Quarterback Jake Bentley and the South Carolina offense have plenty of potent weapons to replace injured superstar Deebo Samuel, but their offensive line – which was a question mark to begin the season – has been ravaged by injuries.

FINAL SCORE: SOUTH CAROLINA 48 ARKANSAS 22

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 WAKE FOREST (4-1, 1-1 ACC) #2 CLEMSON (5-0, 3-0 ACC)

(Via @ClemsonFB)

Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C. – 12:00 p.m. EDT – ESPN2
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Clemson -21.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Clemson 92.2 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (17-8, 14-11 ATS) – CLEMSON 37 WAKE FOREST 13

The Deacons come to Clemson for a revival after a heartbreaking home loss to Florida State.  Wake has constantly improved since the arrival of coach Dave Clawson.  After back to back 3-9 seasons, the Deacs won seven games last year, including a bowl victory.

Wake Forest’s defense leads the nation in tackles for loss with fifty, including 17 against the Seminoles.  Meanwhile quarterback John Wolford leads the team in passing with 947 yards and 8 TD’s, and he also leads the team in rushing 332 yards on the ground. Running back Matt Colburn – a Columbia, S.C. native who played for Dutch Fork – has 160 yards and two touchdowns so far this year.

The Tigers come off an impressive road win against a very good Virginia Tech team, looking especially dominant on defense.  Brent Venables‘ guys are big, athletic and extremely well-coached.  On offense, Clemson’s Kelly Bryant continues to play well and may be as good a natural runner in the country at that position.  Running backs Travis Etienne and Tavian Feaster are both strong, fast downhill runners, and the receiving corps is deep and talented.

Clemson came out slow against Boston College following their last big road win at Louisville, and may start a little slow this week as well.  But I think there’s just too much talent on the home side for a sold Wake team to cover much less pull the upset.

LIZ REARDON (10-5, 8-7 ATS) – CLEMSON 31 WAKE FOREST 14

Nothing would make me happier than to see Wake beat Clemson.  The spread is large, and probably for good reason.  Wake has upset the Tigers before, though (it’s how Dabo Swinney got his job if my memory serves correctly) and maybe they’ll do it again.  Except nah – probably not.  But I’ll take them to cover, against my better judgment.  Go Demon Deacons!

WOODY WHITEHURST (13-7, 12-8 ATS) – CLEMSON 42 WAKE FOREST 17

This week members of Clemson’s staff rescued a student from a car accident that happened just yards away from the practice fields.  No chance they’ll lose after gathering that much good will … right?

WILL FOLKS (16-9, 11-14 ATS) – CLEMSON 49 WAKE FOREST 14

I bet against Clemson last week and paid the price.  No way I’m falling into that trap again.  It’s time to face facts, Clemson isn’t just good – they are probably the best team in college football this season.  Wake Forest is much improved and “trending” as the cool kids say, but it won’t be anywhere near enough to even approach an upset in Death Valley.  Clemson wins and covers – with a touchdown or two to spare.

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 28 WAKE FOREST 14

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#13 MIAMI (3-0, 1-0 ACC) @ FLORIDA STATE (1-2, 1-1 ACC)

(Via @FSUFootball)

Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, FL – 3:30 p.m. EDT – ESPN
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Miami -3
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Florida State 63.1 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (17-8, 14-11 ATS) – MIAMI 27 FLORIDA STATE 20

The Hurricanes blow into Tallahassee after a dominating win on the road over an unbeaten Duke team. Meanwhile the Noles are coming back home after a fight to the finish against a resurgent Wake Forest team.

FSU has beat “The U” the last seven times they’ve played and are 4-3 against the spread in those wins.  FSU is also 21-4 straight-up in last 25 games at Doak Campbell Stadium, and are 4-1 against the spread over their last five at home.  Since last November, though, Miami is 8-0 and 7-1 against the numbers.  Something has got to give Saturday for one of these two.

I think the matchup to watch is Miami’s two talented wideouts Ahmmon Richards and Braxton Berrios working against arguably the best cornerback duo in country in FSU’s Derwin James and Tarvarus McFadden.

The quarterback matchup pits Miami’s Malik Rosier against Noles’ true freshman James Blackman. Rosier has more experience and has thrown for 820 yards and touchdowns. Blackmon may be running for his life all game against a good Miami  defensive line, and he has to be careful because turnovers will make this a hill to high for the Noles to climb.  I see the “The U” ending their seven-game losing streak to FSU, winning and covering.

LIZ REARDON (10-5, 8-7 ATS) – MIAMI 24 FLORIDA STATE 20

The Seminoles are lost without their Frenchie QB.  I almost feel bad for them … mostly because they usually have the best shot at knocking off Clemson. Miami is ranked No. 13 in the country, but I feel like that’s generous.  There was a time when this rival matchup was not to be missed.  Now is not that time.  I don’t care enough about this ACC match up for this to be a bold prediction, but I think the Hurricanes get the win.

WOODY WHITEHURST (13-7, 12-8 ATS) – MIAMI 28 FLORIA STATE 20

The game within the game on Saturday is how long Florida State’s incredibly skinny quarterback can survive being hit by a solid Miami defensive line.  I’d be happy if both teams lost this game, but if I have to pick one, I’m going with the Canes.

WILL FOLKS (16-9, 11-14 ATS) – FLORIDA STATE 27 MIAMI 24

After my terrible performance last week, I feel stupid making a contrarian pick here – and I’ll probably pay for it.  Still, my loathing of “The U” and everything it stands for goes back decades – and was only compounded when the school hired the insufferably sanctimonious Mark Richt from Georgia.  I wish Miami could get beat by three touchdowns in this game, but three points will suffice as Jimbo Fisher and his squad get back on track with an upset of the Canes on their home field.

FINAL SCORE: MIAMI 24 FLORIDA STATE 20

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#23 WVU (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) @ #8 TCU (4-0, 1-0 Big 12)

(Via @TCUFootball)

Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth TX – 3:30 p.m. EDT – FS1
Oddshark Spread Consensus: TCU -13
ESPN Matchup Predictor: TCU 88.4

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (17-8, 14-11 ATS) – TCU 41 WEST VIRGINIA 34

After a tough first game loss against Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers have won three straight – but now they have to travel to Fort Worth and face an undefeated TCU team.  West Virginia beat Kansas worse than the 56-34 score indicated in their last game, before having last week off.  Meanwhile the Frogs went to Stillwater and spanked No. 6 Oklahoma State 44-31 as an underdog before having last week off as well.

West Virginia is led by Florida transfer quarterback Will Grier.  He’s thrown for 1374 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.  His receiving group is anchored by David Still, who’s a good one, with running backs Justin Crawford and Kennedy McCoy doing the ground work.

TCU has a solid senior signal-caller in Kenny Hill whose thrown for 965 yards and nine scoring strikes. TCU’s Darius Anderson had a huge game against Oklahoma State with 160 yards rushing and three scores.

Like I said before both teams were off last week and should be well rested and prepared. While TCU seems to be the better overall team to me, I think the spread is inflated due to their big road win two weeks ago.

LIZ REARDON (10-5, 8-7 ATS) – TCU 42 WEST VIRGINIA 27

I love the Horned Frogs, remember?  I like Dana Holgorson, too though.  TCU is favored by nearly two touchdowns and I think they’ll cover.  This is WVU’s first real test since week one.  No one really knows what they’re made of.  Either way, I’m going with the Frogs again.

WOODY WHITEHURST (13-7, 12-8 ATS) – WEST VIRGINIA 35 TCU 31

Just mentioning West Virginia is enough to trigger this Clemson alum.  Mountaineers’ head coachDana Holgorson may look like a guy that could turn up on Live PD, but the man can coach and I just don’t trust Gary Patterson.

WILL FOLKS (16-9, 11-14 ATS) – WEST VIRGINIA 38 TCU 35

I’m with Woody on this one.  I think TCU is due for a letdown after that big win in Stillwater, Oklahoma – and West Virginia has been lights out since its season-opening loss against Virginia Tech.  The Mountaineers have a balanced offensive attack and while transfer quarterback Will Grier gets most of the headlines, don’t snooze on running back Justin Crawford – who has gone over 100 yards every game this season.

FINAL SCORE: TCU 31 WEST VIRGINIA 24

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MSU (3-1, 1-0 BIG 10) @ #7 MICHIGAN (4-0, 1-0 BIG 10)

(Via: @UMichFootball)

Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor MI – 7:30 p.m. EDT – ABC
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Michigan -10
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Michigan 85.7 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (17-8, 14-11 ATS) – MICHIGAN 24 MICHIGAN STATE 13

The Paul Bunyan Trophy will be up for grabs in Ann Arbor this week when the undefeated Wolverines host their in-state rivals.  Michigan has the advantage in this 100-plus year rivalry, but State has won seven of the last nine straight-up – and have covered the spread in each of those games.

This matchup has historically been decided by which team runs the ball the best with 42 of the last 47 games being won by the team with the most yards on the ground.  So far these two are almost even in rushing average, so it could be the team that’s able to make something happen through the air emerging victorious.

Michigan will have to depend on John O’Korn to provide some lift.  He is a senior and has some game experience, but will need to play his best game this week.  MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke almost led State to a comeback win last year and has thrown for 964 yards so far this season while running for another 248.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan has one of the nation’s top defenses and leads the country in sacks.  Chase Winovich is the one to watch with eight tackles for loss and six sacks.  All told, Go Blue is allowing only 18 points and 247 yards per game.  I think the Wolverine defense will be to much for Sparty at the Big House. I’ll take the home team to win and cover.

LIZ REARDON (10-5, 8-7 ATS) – MICHIGAN 24 MICHIGAN STATE 17

Michigan State is 3-1 with their only loss coming to Notre Dame.  Michigan is undefeated, but they haven’t really beaten anyone but Florida (a team which is super inconsistent and has gotten lucky more than once this season).  Both teams appear to be solid this year, but Michigan is ranked No. 7 in the country (maybe by default).  I don’t know.  This one should be closer than the spread suggests.  I think Michigan wins by a touchdown.

WOODY WHITEHURST (13-7, 12-8 ATS) – MICHIGAN 30 MICHIGAN STATE 20

I keep hearing that Jim Harbaugh is going to dominate college football, but I’m not even sure his team has mastered the forward pass. Luckily for him, neither has Michigan State.

WILL FOLKS (16-9, 11-14 ATS) – MICHIGAN 28 MICHIGAN STATE 17

I think Michigan will win and cover – but barely.  As Brant pointed out, the Wolverines’ defense is simply too good for Sparty – and perhaps for anybody in the Big 10.  Imagine if this team had a Desmond Howard-type offensive weapon?  They’d be vying with Alabama and Clemson for national supremacy.  As it is, Michigan is probably a win or two away from making the College Football Playoff (CFP) this year.

FINAL SCORE: MSU 14 MICHIGAN 10

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