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#FITSPicks: NCAAF November 4

Picking the Gamecocks, Tigers, Bulldogs and Wolfpack … and three other great Top 25 matchups …

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

We’ve got four Top 25 matchups on tap this weekend as well as a South Carolina game featuring our hometown Gamecocks going up against the No. 1 team in the nation, the Georgia Bulldogs.

For those of you new to the site, each weekend our experts have 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.

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

#FITSPICKS: OCTOBER 28

Last week two members of our panel – Brant Branham and Woody Whitehurst – went undefeated, while the inimitable Liz Gunn was right behind them with a 4-1 mark.

Gunn has posted an impressive 22-8 overall mark in her six weeks on our panel.

Who brought up the rear last week?  As usual it was our founding editor Will Folks, who we ordinarily would have booted from this feature weeks ago were it not for the fact that he owns this website.

Hopefully we’ll be able to replace him with a better prognosticator next year …

In the meantime, to the picks!

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SOUTH CAROLINA (6-2, 4-2 SEC) @ #1 GEORGIA (8-0, 5-0 SEC)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Sanford Stadium, Athens, S.C. – 3:30 p.m. EDT – CBS
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Georgia -23.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Georgia 90.9 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (28-12, 23-17 ATS) – GEORGIA 48 SOUTH CAROLINA 17

Other than Clemson, the Gamecocks have played the Bulldogs more than any other team.  In the 69 previous meetings, Georgia holds a commanding 49-18-2 advantage.  However, over the last ten games the series is even.

Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley is having a solid year for the young Gamecocks, but the offensive has still struggled to find balance.  Carolina’s defense is improved and opportunistic, but I don’t think they’ve seen anything like what’s coming at them on Saturday in Athens.

Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has played beyond his years, but that hasn’t been too tough with running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield (by the way is it just me or does it seem like those two have been playing since the Vince Dooley days?).

Meanwhile on the other side of the ball the Dawgs’ defense is big and physical and will give the Gamecocks more than they can handle there as well.

This is a game between one team (South Carolina) that has played hard and somehow won six games, against another team (Georgia) that’s the real deal.  I look for Chubb and Michel to go through the Roosters like Sherman did Atlanta – leaving them tattered and in flames.

LIZ REARDON (22-8, 16-14 ATS) – GEORGIA 28 SOUTH CAROLINA 17

Georgia is now the No. 1 team in the country.  Just seven short years ago the Cocks beat the number one team in the country (Alabama) against all odds at home.  I wish I had that kind of optimism today, but I think the Dawgs will take this one.  I do, however, hope and pray my Gamecocks can at least cover the large point spread.

WOODY WHITEHURST (24-11, 21-14 ATS) – GEORGIA 45 SOUTH CAROLINA 28

The only way I win this game is if both teams lose. Georgia fans are the worst in the sport, but you won’t find me pulling for the Gamecocks. Just like last week, I can’t really find a way to have Georgia not come out on top.

WILL FOLKS (22-18, 17-23 ATS) – GEORGIA 41 SOUTH CAROLINA 24

I think South Carolina comes out and plays better than anyone expects them to against the No. 1 team in America. Will it be enough?  No.  Not even close.  Georgia is that good.  And while head coach Will Muschamp has gotten some breaks to lead his team to six wins so far this season, South Carolina fans will get a good look at the coach they probably should have hired two years ago: Kirby Smart.

South Carolina’s long-awaited discovery of a running game against Vanderbilt last week should keep this one a bit closer than expected, but Georgia simply has too much talent on both sides of the football.

Worth keeping in mind?  The Gamecocks have shown up the last two times they’ve gone up against No. 1 – beating Alabama in 2010  and giving Clemson all it could handle two years ago at Williams-Brice Stadium.

FINAL SCORE: GEORGIA 24 SOUTH CAROLINA 10

***

 #4 CLEMSON (7-1, 5-1 ACC) @ #20 NC STATE (6-2, 4-0 ACC)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Carter-Finlay Stadium, Raleigh N.C. – 3:30 p.m. EDT – ABC
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Clemson -7
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Clemson 70.7 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (28-12, 23-17 ATS) – CLEMSON 31 NC STATE 20

Shouldn’t they have quit calling this game The Textile Bowl in 1994 when NAFTA became law?  But what the hell it’s still the Pack and the Tigers …

Clemson leads this all time series 56-28-1, and has won the last five meetings.  Another win on the road against a ranked opponent will help the Tigers remain in the College Football Playoff (CFP)’s final four.

States’ first game loss to South Carolina is long forgotten, but they got manhandled in South Bend last week – looking completely overmatched and outplayed.  The Tigers on the other hand looked dominant against Georgia Tech in a monsoon at home.

Pack quarterback Ryan Finley has played well all year throwing for 273 yards per game with 12 scoring strikes and only one interception on the season.  Jaylen Samuels is an all-purpose threat for State with seven rushing scores and 56 catches (including three more scores).

On “D” the Pack is led by All-American candidate Bradley Chubb (cousin of Georgia’s Nick Chubb).

The Tigers are looking solid offensively now that Kelly Bryant is back playing healthy.  Last week they got wideout Deon Cain going early, and tight end Milan Richard is getting more involved in the offense as the season progresses.  Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow is as solid a third down receiver as there is in college football, and Ray-Ray McCloud provides a deep threat and is also a dangerous punt returner.

If Clemson gets tailbacks Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne some running room it should loosen up the Pack to the pass.

The Tigers came out of the initial CFP rankings at No. 4.  That means they can’t stumble and may need some wins with style points to stay in that mix.  I think Clemson comes out focused on Saturday and looking like a team that is used to winning big games.  Pick the Tigers to win and cover in Raleigh.

LIZ REARDON (22-8, 16-14 ATS) – NC STATE 28 CLEMSON 24

I’ve had this game circled in red since mid-September.  It won’t be easy, but I really feel like the Wolfpack can beat Clemson in Raleigh today.  With the exception of their opening game against the Cocks, NCSU has looked good this year, holding their own (early) last week against a very good Norte Dame.  That’s their only other loss.  The stars will have to align for it to happen, but it sure would be nice to see Clemson’s playoff dreams come to an end today. Wolfpack in a close one!

WOODY WHITEHURST (24-11, 21-14 ATS) – CLEMSON 38 NC STATE 31

I feel a lot better about the Tigers after watching Kelly Bryant play last week.  He looks as healthy as possible this late in the season and the Clemson defense returned to form.  I also think the Tigers are a little salty about last year’s game and the way the Pack took out Wayne Gallman.  NC State is definitely good enough to win this game, but they looked pretty vulnerable against Notre Dame.  Another Textile Bowl thriller?

WILL FOLKS (22-18, 17-23 ATS) – CLEMSON 27 NC STATE 24

I want to opine on so-called “free trade” here, but I’m guessing that might be perceived as off-topic.  So I’ll stick to football.  Clemson’s bounce back win last week was a big deal – showing the sort of championship mentality head coach Dabo Swinney’s squad possesses.  I thought the Tigers were in real trouble after having a week to think about their upset loss to Syracuse on October 13 – but their quarterback showed no lingering effects from his injuries and coordinator Brent Venables’ defense was back with a vengeance.  While I don’t think Clemson deserved the CFP’s designation as the No. 4 team in the nation, they can hold onto that lofty ranking – and a coveted playoff spot – with a win over the Pack on the road.  Zach Galifianakis isn’t going to like this pick, but I’m taking Clemson …

FINAL SCORE: ???

***

#19 LSU (6-2, 3-1 SEC) @ #2 ALABAMA (8-0, 5-0 SEC)

(Via @AlabamaFTBL)

Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa AL – 8:00 p.m. EDT – CBS
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Alabama -21
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Alabama 93.1 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (28-12, 23-17 ATS) – ALABAMA 42 LSU 17

These two traditional SEC powers renew a rivalry that dates back to 1895.  The Tigers and Tide have played 81 times with Alabama holding a big advantage with 51 wins.  Head coach Nick Saban’s team has also won the last six meetings in a row and eight of the last ten.

LSU is young and will start four freshman Saturday – including two on the offensive line. That’s a heavy lift as they’ll be going up against the No. 1 ranked defense in the county against the run.

LSU’s defense has been hit and miss all year, but does have some talent and speed.  I don’t think it’ll be enough to hold up against the Tide’s talented trio of quarterback Jaylen Hurts and running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough.  Alabama is a big favorite, but I still think they win and cover at home.

LIZ REARDON (22-8, 16-14 ATS) – ALABAMA 41 LSU 10

Alabama has looked unbeatable in every game so far.  Meanwhile LSU lost to Troy – and has only provided a few glimpses of even looking like a half-decent team, in my opinion.  I think ’Bama wins easy in Tuscaloosa and covers the spread.

WOODY WHITEHURST (24-11, 21-14 ATS) – ALABAMA 35 LSU 13

I remember when this used to be a fun game. Now ’Bama is wrecking opponents each week and LSU is the 30-something dad that keeps telling you stories about the glory days.  This one might be close for a quarter, but I doubt it.

WILL FOLKS (22-18, 17-23 ATS) – ALABAMA 49 LSU 14

The Tide started this season No. 1 and have remained atop the polls ever since – winning most of their games in dominating fashion.  Now they’re No. 2?  The College Football Playoff (CFP) selection committee’s diss of Alabama earlier this year is a huge deal – just what head coach Nick Saban needed to inspire his players to take it up a notch.  As much as I’d love to see LSU head coach Ed Orgeron rip off his shirt and start yelling “Wild Boyz Bayou” on the sideline, I think the the Tide roll over the Tigers in this one.  In fact, I think the CFP may have given Saban all the motivation he needs to claim his fifth national title in nine years.

FINAL SCORE: ALABAMA 24 LSU 10

***

 #5 OKLAHOMA (7-1, 4-1 BIG XII) @ #11 OSU (6-1, 4-0 BIG 10)

(Via: @OU_Football)

Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater OK – 4:00 p.m. EDT – FS1
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Oklahoma State -2
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Oklahoma 51 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (28-12, 23-17 ATS) – OKLAHOMA 34 OSU 30

The Bedlam series.  These two teams have played 111 times with the Sooners holding a commanding 86-18-7 lead. The boys from Norman have also won the last two games and four of the last five.

Both of these teams have Heisman Trophy candidate at the quarterback position – Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and OSU’s Mason Rudolph, a native of Rock Hill, S.C.

Mayfield has put up some impressive numbers throwing 23 touchdowns this season against only three picks. Rudolph has also been good, but has looked as though he may not be 100 percent healthy the last couple games.

The Cowboys’ defense has played more consistently than the Sooners this season, but have melted down at times giving up 34 and 39 points in wins over Texas Tech and West Virginia, respectively.  They also got tuned up by TCU in their only loss, giving up 44 points.

Oklahoma’s defense has been good and bad at times – both in long stretches. They are led by pass rushing specialist Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (maybe the best name in college football).  He could cause lots of trouble for the Cowboys if Rudolph is truly banged up.

This is a rivalry game between two good teams.  State is a slight favorite playing in Stillwater, but I like the Sooners to pull the upset in this one.

LIZ REARDON (22-8, 16-14 ATS) – OKLAHOMA 38 OSU 37

Hmm.  So the Sooners won me (and America) over when they beat Ohio State early on in week two, but since then they haven’t proven much – which isn’t surprising considering their schedule.  OSU on the other hand has only played one other ranked team – and they lost.  In my humble opinion, the rankings in this matchup are still a little suspect at this point. I’m going to take the (slight) underdog here and go with the Sooners in a close one

WOODY WHITEHURST (24-11, 21-14 ATS) – OSU 45 OKLAHOMA 38

Man, do I hate Baker Mayfield.  If there were a way to pick Oklahoma to score negative points, I’d do it. This game will be a ton of fun, though, and I love watching South Carolina fans curse Steve Spurrier as they watch Rock Hill native Mason Rudolph throw for 400 touchdowns a game.

WILL FOLKS (22-18, 17-23 ATS) – OSU 35 OKLAHOMA 34

Everybody’s talking Mayfield versus Rudolph in this one, but I think the winner will be decided on the other side of the football – namely which defense shows up.  Obviously they don’t play defense in the Big XII, so that could get interesting.  I don’t know for sure what the contrarian pick is in this game (which is probably good because that’s been the key to my terrible record this season), but I think the home team pulls out a squeaker in this year’s edition of Bedlam.  Also props to Brant for correctly spelling Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.  I will be trying to say that name five times really fast all Saturday.

FINAL SCORE: OKLAHOMA 62 OSU 52

***

#13 VA TECH (7-1, 3-1 ACC) @ #10 MIAMI (7-0, 5-0 ACC)

(Via @CanesFootball)

Hard Rock Stadium – 8:00 p.m. EDT – ABC
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Miami -1.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Miami 54.5 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (28-12, 23-17 ATS) – MIAMI 24 VIRGINIA TECH 23

The Hokies head south to take on the undefeated Canes.  This will be the 35th time these two teams have played with Miami holding 20-14 lead in the series.

Miami hasn’t lost yet this season, but they haven’t been smoking other teams, either – winning their last four games by eight points or less.

Virginia Tech got overpowered by Clemson at home earlier this year, but have been taking out their frustrations since then – winning their last three games by a combined score of 106-20.

The Hokies’ won at home last year over the Canes and have beaten “The U” three of the last five.  All that being said, I’ll still take the Canes, led by Will Folks’ favorite coach Mark Richt who was known as “the Boca Baby” when he played at Miami due to his legendary ways with the coeds.

No wonder he is Will’s favorite given their shared reputation with the ladies …

LIZ REARDON (22-8, 16-14 ATS) – VIRGINIA TECH 24 MIAMI 21

I was shocked to see both of these teams are in the top 15. I just don’t watch a lot of ACC football. But the Hokies have shut out two teams this season and held their last two opponents to a combined 10 points. I have to admit, that’s impressive. Miami on the other hand, hasn’t beaten anyone worth noting and they’ve allowed more point from the same teams. I know offense is sexy (and necessary) but defense wins games. I’ll go with the Hokies today.

WOODY WHITEHURST (24-11, 21-14 ATS) – VIRGINIA TECH 27 MIAMI 23

Really interested in this game, which should decide the winner of the ACC Coastal. Miami has been lucky as hell all season and that eventually has to run out. I think that happens this week against a Hokies team that’s just plain better than them.

WILL FOLKS (22-18, 17-23 ATS) – MIAMI 27 VIRGINIA TECH 21

Ah, Brant … busting out the “Boca Baby” tag for Hurricanes’ head coach Mark Richt.  Actually I can’t stand the guy.  He may have slayed it during his college days in Coral Gables, but lately he’s become a bit sanctimonious in his Holier-than-thou schtick.  Having said that, I think his team wins this game at home (at night) with a bit of a chip on its shoulder following the disrespect they were shown in the initial CFP ratings.

Oh, and easy ladies … the “Boca Baby” is in the house …

FINAL SCORE: MIAMI 28 VIRGINIA TECH 10

***

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Banner via Travis Bell Photography