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#FITSPicks: NCAAF October 28

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Welcome (back) to #FITSPicks!  It’s the ninth week of the season and our panel’s eighth week picking games …

We took last weekend off as both of our home state’s major college football programs – Clemson University and the University of South Carolina – were out of action on October 21.

For those of you new to the site, each weekend our panel of experts has been offering 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 panelists are graded in two areas: Whether they correctly pick the winner of each game, and whether they win against the spread.

Here’s how they’ve fared so far …

#FITSPICKS: SEPTEMBER 2

#FITSPICKS: SEPTEMBER 9

#FITSPICKS: SEPTEMBER 16

#FITSPICKS: SEPTEMBER 23

#FITSPICKS: SEPTEMBER 30

#FITSPICKS: OCTOBER 7

#FITSPICKS: OCTOBER 14

So far, every single member of our panel has a winning record, and three of our four panelists have winning records against the spread.  The only one who doesn’t?  Our founding editor … but we can’t really boot him off the island can we?

Maybe next year …

In the meantime, to this week’s picks …

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VANDERBILT (3-4, 0-4 SEC) @ SOUTH CAROLINA (5-2, 3-2 SEC)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C. – 4:00 p.m. EDT – SEC Network
Oddshark Spread Consensus: South Carolina -6.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: South Carolina 83.5 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (23-12, 20-15 ATS) – SOUTH CAROLINA 27 VANDERBILT 17

This is a game between one team that doesn’t always look pretty but wins (South Carolina) and another that just looks bad (Vandy).

The Commodores started the season 3-0, but have dropped four straight conference games – and allowed over fifty points in each loss.  Vandy’s defense has more holes than a beggar’s dress.  They’ve allowed an average of 347 yards per game on the ground and a total of 18 touchdowns on the ground in those four losses.  When teams run the ball that well, they don’t bother throwing – so who knows if they can stop the pass.

South Carolina is 5-2 and coming off a bye week so they should be well-rested and ready to treat the Homecoming crowd to a win.  The Gamecocks’ running game continues to struggle, but Vandy’s porous defense should be the perfect cure.  Jake Bentley remains steady at quarterback and has solid receivers in Bryan Edwards and tight end Hayden Hurst.  Carolina doesn’t turn the ball over or commit many penalties.  Add it all up and the Roosters beat up on the Commodores – winning and covering.

LIZ REARDON (18-7, 13-12 ATS) – SOUTH CAROLINA 28 VANDERBILT 20

Vandy is always a thorn in my Gamecocks’ side for some reason.  Even at their worst, and even at our best.  I’m not sure about covering the spread here – but I have to take the Cocks for Homecoming.  Chickens need this win to be bowl bound!

WOODY WHITEHURST (19-11, 18-12 ATS) – SOUTH CAROLINA 28 VANDERBILT 17

Last year Darius Rucker promised South Carolina fans a free concert if the team won six games.  Now that sounds like a punishment to me, but the Gamecocks are on the verge of that milestone once again and I think it happens against Vandy.  Let’s just hope South Carolina fans keep it PG in the stands …

WILL FOLKS (20-15, 14-21 ATS) – SOUTH CAROLINA 38 VANDERBILT 14

Despite its chronic struggles on offense I’m predicting South Carolina scores more points in this one than my esteemed colleagues on this panel.  Why?  Because Vanderbilt’s defense really is that bad.  Also, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the Gameocks’ defense – which scored three times against Arkansas – finds pay dirt at least once against the Commodores.

FINAL SCORE: SOUTH CAROLINA 34 VANDERBILT 27

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 GEORGIA TECH (4-2, 3-1 ACC) @ #7 CLEMSON (6-1, 4-1 ACC)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Memorial Stadium, Clemson S.C. – 8:00 p.m. EDT – ABC
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Clemson -14
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Clemson 87.5

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (23-12, 20-15 ATS) – CLEMSON 24 GEORGIA TECH 21

Please indulge my love of history, but this game begs some past perspective: Clemson and Georgia Tech have been playing football against each other since 1898.  There have been 81 games since that first one with Tech holding a 50-29-2 advantage.  In fact The Wreck has more wins against Clemson than any other team the Tigers have ever played.  From 1902 through 1973 all of the games were played in Atlanta – and to this day only nineteen of their 81 meetings have been played at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium.

Okay, history class over … going into this year’s game, Clemson is 6-1 and coming off a bye week after losing on the road against Syracuse. The Yellow Jackets are 4-2, with both losses by one point (to Tennessee in double overtime and to an undefeated Miami team).  TaQuon Marshall is the key to Tech’s option offensive – which is averaging 373 yards per game rushing.  That makes this game strength against strength as the Tigers are loaded and deep up front – one reason Clemson’s defense is allowing only 108 yards rushing per game.

Clemson’s offensive is far more balanced averaging 229 passing and 220 yards on the ground.  The elephant in the room for the Tigers is the health of quarterback Kelly Bryant.  He looked hurt against Syracuse from the get-go, and added a concussion to his bum ankle.  Who knows what Tiger fans will see this week.

Tech is 10-0 against the spread over its last ten games and while I think the Tigers will win at home, the spread looks inflated to me.  I’ll take Clemson to win and The Jackets to cover.

LIZ REARDON (18-7, 13-12 ATS) – CLEMSON 31 GEORGIA TECH 21

It’s supposed to rain in Death Valley (Jr.) today – and that could be problematic for Clemson’s injury-plagued offense.  The Tigers’ defense is obviously stout, but Georgia Tech’s option attack could cause some confusion.  Let’s hope so.  I don’t think they’ll lose, but I’m going to be optimistic and say Clemson doesn’t cover either.

WOODY WHITEHURST (19-11, 18-12 ATS) – CLEMSON 30 GEORGIA TECH 20

As was the case in the Syracuse game, quarterback Kelly Bryant’s health is going to be critical to the outcome. If Georgia Tech’s offense is playing well, opponents don’t get many chances when they finally get the ball and the Tigers have to make something happen early if they want to control this game.

WILL FOLKS (20-15, 14-21 ATS) – GEORGIA TECH 24 CLEMSON 20

I’m clearly not going to win the inaugural #FITSPicks challenge, so why not have some fun during the second half of the season?  Seriously, though … all the conditions for another upset are here.  Clemson has had two weeks to think about its embarrassing loss to Syracuse and has a high stakes road game looming against No. 14 NC State next weekend.  Into a rainy Death Valley comes an unconventional option offense and the Tigers’ starting quarterback is gimpy at best?  Ruh-roh, raggy.

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 24 GEORGIA TECH 10

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 #3 GEORGIA (7-0, 4-0 SEC) VS. FLORIDA (3-3, 3-2 SEC)

(Via @FootballUGA)

EverBank Field, Jacksonville FL – 3:30 p.m. EDT – CBS
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Georgia -13.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Georgia 83.2 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (23-12, 20-15 ATS) – GEORGIA 38 FLORIDA 17

These are two more teams that know each other well, having played 95 times with Georgia leading the series 50-43-2. However, since 1990 the Gators have won 21 and lost just six times to the Bulldogs.  Georgia comes into the game undefeated with a 5-2 record against the spread, while Florida is 3-3 and 2-4 agains the spread, having lost their last two games to LSU and Texas A&M.

What I’ve seen from the boys from Athens looks damn to me. Quarterback Jake Fromm surely isn’t playing like a freshman, and the three-headed monster at running back – Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and D’Andre Swift are gashing opposing defenses weekly.

On defense the Dogs are even better – second in the nation in yards allowed per game and fourth in points.

Florida’s defense has kept them in some games this year, but their offense is still MIA –  averaging a mere 24 points per game (95th nationally).  Unlike the Dawgs’ freshman phenom, Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks has looked like a freshman – big plays followed by big mistakes.

As if Georgia needed any additional motivation in this rivalry game, Florida wideout Josh Hammond gave the Bulldogs all the bulletin board material they needed this week when he said “they (Georgia) may be No. 3 in the country, but they can’t beat Florida, Georgia’s not a team we lose to.”

I think that young man needs to slow his roll.

Florida may have won the last three, but I see the Bulldogs as a much better team on both sides of the ball and look for them to flex their muscles in Jacksonville.  Georgia wins and covers.

LIZ REARDON (18-7, 13-12 ATS) – GEORGIA 28 FLORIDA 14

I always look forward to this one.  These two teams hate each other almost as much as Carolina and Clemson hate each other.  I don’t have a dog (or a “dawg”) in this fight, but Georgia has looked better and better each week while the Gators continue to struggle to find their identity.  UGA will win and cover – but not by much.

WOODY WHITEHURST (19-11, 18-12 ATS) – GEORIGA 42 FLORIDA 10

Honestly can’t think of a single reason that Florida wins this game.  Georgia has been incredibly good on defense and the Gators couldn’t score 14 points if you spotted them 13.

WILL FOLKS (20-15, 14-21 ATS) – GEORIGA 31 FLORIDA 13

I’ve picked Florida to win several big games this year and they’ve disappointed me each time.  I also picked Mississippi State to humble Georgia a few weeks ago – and Georgia wound up turning in its most complete game of the season.  I’d love to make one of my costly contrarian picks here but this matchup is just too lopsided – especially when Florida’s struggling offense is on the field.

By the way, second-year head coach Kirby Smart is looking like a genius hire for the Bulldogs’ athletic department …

FINAL SCORE: GEORGIA 42 FLORIDA 7

***

 #2 PENN STATE (7-0, 4-0 BIG 10) @ #6 OHIO STATE (6-1, 4-0 BIG 10)

(Via: @PennStateFBall)

Ohio Stadium, Columbus OH – 3:30 p.m. EDT – Fox
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Ohio State -7
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Ohio State 71.4 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (23-12, 20-15 ATS) – OHIO STATE 28 PENN STATE 20

All eyes will on this game in Columbus. The Buckeyes hold an 18-14 advantage in the overall series, but Penn State upset Ohio State last year in Happy Valley.  After a loss to Oklahoma in the season’s second game Ohio State has been on a roll. The big question is have they played anybody?  Quarterback J.T. Barrett is playing well averaging over 13 yards per completion, which leads the Big 10. He’s also still a dangerous runner with 359 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.  But Penn State ain’t Maryland.

The Nittany Lions’ defense is stout – giving up just ten points per game. They rank first nationally against the pass and are holding opponents to 115 yards per game on the ground.  On offense quarterback Trace McSorley has been playing solid all year and running back Saquon Barkley looks like the Heisman Trophy front runner.

Still, I think the Buckeyes have more overall talent on both sides of the ball.  Add the “revenge factor” from last year’s loss and I look for Ohio State to win and cover.

LIZ REARDON (18-7, 13-12 ATS) – OHIO STATE 35 PENN STATE 27

Man, I would love to see the Nittany Lions knock off the Buckeyes today – but I just don’t see it happening. OSU always seems to find a way to win – especially at home.  No exception today.  I predict the Buckeyes win and (barely) cover.

WOODY WHITEHURST (19-11, 18-12 ATS) – OHIO STATE 38 PENN STATE 30

Ohio State has been quietly beating down lesser opponents all season – eying this game as their shot to get back into the playoff.  I’m not a real Penn State believer primarily because 50 percent of quarterback Trace McSorley’s completions seem to come on jump balls. Also, Penn State’s James Franklin seems like if he wasn’t coaching, he’d be telling me about the freedom that comes with selling Amway.

WILL FOLKS (20-15, 14-21 ATS) – PENN STATE 27 OHIO STATE 24 

I can’t stand either of these programs.  Both represent everything that’s wrong with collegiate athletics – especially Penn State.  Of course you know what an Ohio state loss means … sad Urban Meyer pizza memes!  Ohio State caused some controversy ahead of this game by choosing to don dark grey alternate jerseys with grey numbers.  Why should we care?  Penn State coaches didn’t like the fashion statement, arguing it make it too difficult for them to identify opposing personnel on the field.  Think that’s silly?  Not in this game, an exceedingly even match-up which could very well be decided on the basis of one missed substitution.  I’m going with the contrarian pick here because what the hell.  Sad Urban Meyer pizza for everybody!

FINAL SCORE: OHIO STATE 39 PENN STATE 38

***

#14 NC STATE (6-1, 4-0 ACC) @ #9 NOTRE DAME (6-1)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Notre Dame Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EDT – NBC
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Notre Dame -6.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Notre Dame 78.2 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (23-12, 20-15 ATS) – NOTRE DAME 27 NC STATE 24

This has the makings of one of the best games of the weekend.  Both teams have only one loss – with Notre Dame’s only blemish being a 1-point loss to Georgia.  The Pack is led on offense by Ryan Finley who has played lights out so far throwing for 1,968 yards and 11 touchdowns with zero interceptions – all while completing 69 percent of his throws.  State also has other offensive weapons in running back Nyheim Hines, wide receiver Kelvin Harmon and dual-threat offensive superstar Jaylen Samuels.

The Irish offense is led by redshirt quarterback Brandon Wimbush who is still developing and is yet to throw for more than 210 yards in a game.  He is however, an excellent runner with 508 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Irish star tailback Josh Adams (a.k.a. “33 Trucking”) is an emerging Heisman candidate with 967 rushing yards so far this season.

The real fight to watch will be in the trenches. The Irish offensive line is anchored by two possible All Americans, but they’ll face their toughest test yet in State’s strong D-line powered by Bradley Chubb and Darian Roseboro.

This game should be a doozy.  The Pack is 2-0 all time against the Irish – winning in Raleigh last year while playing in a hurricane.  This year I’ll take the home team to win, but the visitors to cover.

LIZ REARDON (18-7, 13-12 ATS) – NC STATE 31 NOTRE DAME 28

Call me crazy, call it wishful thinking, but I’m calling the upset. I just can’t stand Notre Dame and I really want to see the Wolfpack continue to do well, especially heading into next week’s game against Clemson. I’m going with NC State in a close one.

WOODY WHITEHURST (19-11, 18-12 ATS) – NOTRE DAME 35 NC STATE 28

I’m really interested to see how State performs in this game.  The Wolfpack certainly seem like a contender in the ACC race, but suddenly their two best wins (against Florida State and Louisville) don’t look quite so impressive. Meanwhile Notre Dame has been bullying teams as it marches towards a possible playoff appearance.

WILL FOLKS (20-15, 14-21 ATS) – NC STATE 30 NOTRE DAME 28

I’m with Liz on this one.  I think NC State has the tools on both sides of the football to not only hang with the Irish – but upset them on their home turf.  For the first time in a long time, the hype associated with Notre Dame football is legitimate – but the Wolfpack’s dominant defensive line and the accuracy/ ball security of experienced quarterback Ryan Finley will be the difference in this matchup.

FINAL SCORE: NOTRE DAME 35 NC STATE 14

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Banner via Travis Bell Photography


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