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#FITSPicks: NCAAF November 11

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

This week, there’s so much good football on tap we couldn’t help ourselves … we had to add an extra game.

For those of you new to this format, 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

#FITSPICKS: NOVEMBER 4

Last week our panel’s overall leader, Brant Branham, went undefeated for the second week in a row.  Branham stumbled against the spread, though, posting a 1-3-1 mark.

Everyone struggled against the numbers last week … everyone except our founding editor, that is.

Tired of being mocked by his fellow panelists, Will Folks turned in of his best performances of the year last week – posting a 4-1 record picking games as well as a 4-1 mark against the spread.

Can he keep it rolling this week?  We doubt it …

Despite his success, Folks remains three games under .500 against the numbers (the only one of our prognosticators with a losing record).  He also has the worst overall winning percentage of any member of our panel.

Which means we’ll hopefully be able to replace him next year …

Meanwhile, panelists Liz Gunn and Woody Whitehurst continued to keep the heat on Branham as the 2017 season races down the homestretch.

Just three more weeks to go!

Enjoy this week’s predictions …

***

FLORIDA (3-5, 3-4 SEC) @ SOUTH CAROLINA (6-3, 4-3 SEC) 

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C. – 12:00 p.m. EDT – CBS
Oddshark Spread Consensus: South Carolina -6.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: South Carolina 68.8 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (33-12, 24-20-1 ATS) – SOUTH CAROLINA 27 FLORIDA 17

When the Gamecocks and Gators meet on Saturday there will be lots of familiar faces.  Carolina head coach Will Muschamp got run out of Gainesville after the 2014 season, but some of his recruits are still on the Gator team.  Also, many of the assistants on both sides know each other or have worked together.  All that being said, once they kickoff it’ll be every man for himself.

Florida rolls into Columbia on a four-game losing streak, with a team dissipated by injuries and suspensions, and an interim coach.  The Gators’ offense has been lame all season to say the least, scoring only 19 touchdowns in eight games.  The Florida defense – usually its strong suit – has been respectable all things considered but are still giving up 377 yards per game.

South Carolina gave the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs a valiant effort last week before running out of gas in the end.  Still, the Gamecock defense held the Dawgs’ vaunted running attack to nearly 100 yards below their season average.

Florida leads this all time series 26-8-3 and have won the last two games, but they got scorched last week by Missouri 45-16, and overall look like an undermanned and tired team. I like the home team here to win and cover.

LIZ REARDON (25-10, 18-17 ATS) – SOUTH CAROLINA 24 FLORIDA 20

The Gamecocks will pull out a close one, but unfortunately I don’t see them covering.  What can I saw, we like to keep it interesting.  Even though the Gators are in a rough spot, they won’t make it easy.

WOODY WHITEHURST (27-13, 22-17-1 ATS) – SOUTH CAROLINA 30 FLORIDA 10

I can’t think of another team in the country with South Carolina’s luck.  Their schedule is full of teams that have given up and are moving on from head coaches.  Florida’s offense is just awful and it would shock me if they score more than 10 points.  I’ll never forgive the SEC East for allowing the Gamecocks to win this many games.

WILL FOLKS (26-19, 21-24 ATS) – SOUTH CAROLINA 27 FLORIDA 13

This is a huge home game for South Carolina, which is looking to secure its first winning record since 2014 and improve its bowl outlook in the process.  Head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson certainly have the Gamecocks’ defense playing much stouter than anyone expected, but South Carolina’s offense really hasn’t reached its full potential this season under sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley.  That’s not surprising given the season-ending injury sustained by all-purpose offensive/ special teams threat Deebo Samuel – but it is disappointing nonetheless.

The Gamecocks should beat a Gator team that’s in total disarray at the moment, but something about this game (the early kickoff?) makes me nervous.  Not nervous enough to make another dumb contrarian pick, but nervous nonetheless.  I’m with Liz.  This game won’t be as easy as some Carolina fans think.

FINAL SCORE: SOUTH CAROLINA 28 FLORIDA 20

***

FSU (3-5, 3-4 ACC) @ #4 CLEMSON (8-1, 6-1 ACC)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Memorial Stadium, Clemson S.C. – 3:30 p.m. EDT – ESPN
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Clemson -16.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Clemson 85.4 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (33-12, 24-20-1 ATS) – CLEMSON 35 FLORIDA STATE 17

Preseason this was supposed to be the game of the year in the ACC – but how things have changed. The Tigers come in 8-1 while Noles‘ – who started the season ranked No. 3 – are just 3-5, their worst record in forty years.

The reasons for Florida State’s woes are many.  They lost starting quarterback Deondre Francois in the season opener against Alabama and it’s been all downhill from there. The Noles are last in the league in turnover ratio and tackles for loss, and are 12th in penalty yards per game.  They do boast a talented freshman tailback in Cam Akers, but they also start a freshman quarterback named James Blackman who has played like a freshman – inconsistent and confused.

None of this bodes well for the tribe from Tallahassee as they have to go against one of the nation’s best defenses, especially the front seven.  Although Dexter Lawrence is banged up, Clemson still has Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins, and Clelin Ferrell wreaking havoc up front – all of them future NFL players.

On offense Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant looks healthy again, and wideout Deon Cain is coming on strong in the past two games.  Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow remains Mr Dependable with big catches every week.  If the Tigers can get the running game going they should move it passing as well.

The spreads in Clemson’s games always look inflated to me, especially when they play at home, but I still think they win and cover.

LIZ REARDON (25-10, 18-17 ATS) – CLEMSON 31 FLORIDA STATE 17

I think Clemson gets caught looking ahead this week.  The Tigers have shown some vulnerability this season but this FSU team just isn’t good enough to capitalize on it.

WOODY WHITEHURST (27-13, 22-17-1 ATS) – CLEMSON 31 FLORIDA STATE 17

As long as Clemson’s defense is reasonably healthy and Kelly Bryant takes care of the ball, the Tigers should walk away with a win.  FSU is in a weird spot and if they go down early, I suspect they give up.  The thing I’m most excited for in this game is Clemson’s .

WILL FOLKS (26-19, 21-24 ATS) – CLEMSON 33 FLORIDA STATE 14

Of course Woody is excited about the .  Clemson has posted a 36-12 all-time record wearing all orange, and the last time they donned this particular attire they shredded Ohio State in the national semi-final game.

Clemson is looking to make it back to its third straight College Football Playoff (CFP), and when the season began it seemed the rivalry formerly known as the “Bowden Bowl” would be their biggest hurdle.

Things haven’t turned out that way at all.  With the exception of a hiccup against Syracuse, Clemson has done its job (thanks to coordinator Brent Venables‘ dominating defense) and should get a chance to defend its national title.  A rivalry game on the road against a better-than-expected South Carolina team and likely ACC championship game against Miami still loom … but look for Clemson to clear this particular hurdle with ease.

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 31 FLORIDA STATE 14

***

#2 ALABAMA (9-0, 6-0 SEC) @ MSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC)

(Via @AlabamaFTBL)

Davis-Wade Stadium, Starkville, MS – 7:00 p.m. EDT – ESPN
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Alabama -13.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Alabama 81.7 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (33-12, 24-20-1 ATS) – ALABAMA 34 MISSISSIPPI STATE 13

The unbeaten Crimson Tide rolls into Starkville on Saturday to play the 7-2 Bulldogs. While the Cowbell Boys have only lost twice they were touted by combined score of 80-13 by Georgia and Auburn.

Hail State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is the heart and soul of the Bulldog offense averaging 251 yards per game from scrimmage, while tailback Aeris Williams has proven productive with 776 yards rushing this season.  But this is Alabama – and although their defense is a bit banged up they can still bring the pain, especially against the run.  The Tide is allowing a mere 76 yards per game on the ground this season – second-best in the nation.

The Bulldogs have also played well against the run, ranking third in the SEC.  They’ll give quarterback Jaylen Hurts and running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough a tough test.  If Alabama will be able to run the ball (and I think they will) look for Hurts to put the ball in the air for talented wideout Calvin Ridley … and look for Ridley to go get it.

Head coach Dan Mullen has done well for himself at Mississippi State – which is not an easy place to be a winner.  Rumors are flying that he’s high on Florida’s wish list for a new coach, and with all due respect to Starkville, Gainesville looks like Beverly Hills by comparison.  Whether he stays or goes I think the Tide keep rolling here, winning and covering.

LIZ REARDON (25-10, 18-17 ATS) – ALABAMA 35 MISSISSIPPI STATE 17

‘Bama takes this one easy.  After getting dissed by the CFP in favor of Georgia, they still need to prove they’re the best team in the country.  They’ll do it today – at MSU’s expense.

WOODY WHITEHURST (27-13, 22-17-1 ATS) – ALABAMA 35 MISSISSIPPI STATE 14

I keep hearing ‘Bama is banged up and that this could be the perfect time for Bulldogs to pull the upset.  No chance.  My bet is that this game looks a lot like the UGA-MSU game.  Besides, Dan Mullen has his eye on that Florida job and probably can’t wait to get away from all those damn cowbells.

WILL FOLKS (26-19, 21-24 ATS) – ALABAMA 31 MISSISSIPPI STATE 13

Mississippi State has been maddeningly inconsistent this year.  Alabama has been … Alabama.  Sure, the Tide underperformed expectations last week against LSU, but head coach Nick Saban’s squad remains the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference (even though Alabama currently finds itself behind Georgia in the CFP rankings). This has all the makings of a very tough road test for Saban and his squad, but I think the Tide will win and cover in Stark Vegas.

FINAL SCORE: ALABAMA 31 MISSISSIPPI STATE 24

***

#6 TCU (8-1, 5-1 BIG XII) @ #5 OKLAHOMA (8-1, 5-1 BIG XII)

(Via: @OU_Football)

Memorial Stadium, Norman OK – 8:00 p.m. EDT – FOX
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Oklahoma -6.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Oklahoma 64.5 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (33-12, 24-20-1 ATS) – OKLAHOMA 37 TCU 34

This is a another knockout round game for the College Football Playoff when head coach coach Gary Patterson, in his 18th season in Fort Worth, leads the Horned Frogs north to Norman to take on first-year head coach Lincoln Riley and his Sooners.

Since TCU has joined the Big XII these two have played some thrillers, with five games being decided by an average of just four points.

On offensive everybody knows Boomer Sooner will be slinging it all over the field, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield at quarterback.  Oklahoma is third in the country in in offense averaging 45 points per game.  On the other side of the ball TCU is one of the most solid defensive teams in college football allowing only fourteen points per game, so something’s got to give.

OU’s secondary has been suspect all year and for today’s game they are banged up – and will have one starter suspended for the first half.  In fact, the Sooners will have as many as three freshman playing in secondary at a time tonight.  The good news for Oklahoma is TCU quarterback Kenny Hill is on a cold streak, not throwing a touchdown over the last two games while pitching two interceptions.

Oklahoma is a touchdown favorite, and if Mayfield gets rolling they could cover that easily – but I don’t think they do.  The Frogs have a strong D, excellent special teams, and an experienced head coach who is used to big games on the road.  I’ll take TCU to keep it close and don’t be surprised if they pull off an upset.

LIZ REARDON (25-10, 18-17 ATS) – OKLAHOMA 35 TCU 28

This is a tough call, but the Sooners are on a roll.  As I’ve said all year I? love the Horned Frogs, but my guess is Oklahoma by a touchdown.

WOODY WHITEHURST (27-13, 22-17-1 ATS) – TCU 35 OKLAHOMA 31

Nearly all of the recent matchups in this series have been decide by single digits and that likely happens again today.  Baker Mayfield is a tool, but the “young” man can sling it and I’m sure he’ll have his team in position to win. Here’s hoping they don’t.

WILL FOLKS (26-19, 21-24 ATS) – OKLAHOMA 33 TCU 30

Really, Brant?  I thought it was my job to make the contrarian picks … and then suffer the consequences. I’d love to pick the Horned Frogs in this one because they are literally the only team in the Big XII that plays defense.  Still, I think Lincoln Riley and Baker Mayfield are dialed in right now for Boomer Sooner while TCU’s offense is struggling at the wrong time of the year.

Does it even really matter who wins?  With the SEC likely to get two teams in the CFP this year, hard to get that excited about this game.

FINAL SCORE: OKLAHOMA STATE 38 TCU 20

***

#3 NOTRE DAME (8-1) @ #7 MIAMI (7-0, 5-0 ACC)

(Via @NDFootball)

Hard Rock Stadium – 8:00 p.m. EDT – ABC
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Notre Dame -3.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Notre Dame 61.9 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (33-12, 24-20-1 ATS) – MIAMI 31 NOTRE DAME 30

This will be Notre Dame‘s first trip to Florida to play the Canes since they left the famed Orange Bowl Stadium, formerly located on Miami’s west side in the Little Havana neighborhood.

While that old Stadium was “ratchet” toward the end of its life there has not been a stadium where more legendary football games have been played.  The Super Bowls, the national championship games, the great Dolphins’ teams, and of course “The U” – all they did was win fifty-eight straight there during their glory days in the 1980s and 1990s.

But, today is today … and Canes now play in the suburbs.

This game sure looks like “win or go home” for one of these two as far as making the final four this year goes.  The Irish are high riding and handsome since their early loss to Oklahoma.  Quarterback Brandon Wimbush seems to be getting better with every snap, and tailback Josh Adams (a.k.a. 33 Trucking) has rushed for almost 1,200 yards – just under nine yards per carry – behind an offensive line powered by two All-Americans.

Miami’s defensive front is fast and athletic, and has only allowed four rushing touchdowns all year – but they’ve seen nothing like the train that is Notre Dame’s ground attack.

The U’s offense is led by first-year starter Malik Rosier at quarterback.  He’s been impressive – throwing for 2,273 yards and 19 scores, while running for an additional 295 yards and three more touchdowns.

Miami has had trouble on third down all year so they better not find themselves behind the chains.  They do though break big plays, though, with 16 plays of over 40 yards or more to lead the ACC.

Between them, these two schools have combined for 18 national championships, 73 bowl games, 131 NFL first round draft picks, and an amazing 830 overall draft picks between them.  They’ve both had their past glory days – and are both good this year.

The Canes are anxiously awaiting the Irish the same way their head coach Mark Richt used to await the new incoming female coeds during his playing days in Coral Gables. But the “Boca Baby” might not be as lucky against the boys from South Bend as he was with the ladies on Miami’s campus.

But what the hell, I got to pick an upset some where. It might as well happen here. I’ll take The U to win and cover.

LIZ REARDON (25-10, 18-17 ATS) – NOTRE DAME 38 MIAMI 24

I hate Notre Dame, but I still think they’ll easily take down the Canes today.  Miami still doesn’t have a solid win under their belt – and they won’t get it today.

WOODY WHITEHURST (27-13, 22-17-1 ATS) – NOTRE DAME 24 MIAMI 17

I actually think this game is pretty simple: Miami can’t continue being so lucky. Every week so far, even in the Virginia Tech game, Miami has benefited from incredible turnover luck and they always seem to have the ball bounce their way.  I think that ends this week against a physical Notre Dame team that wants to run the ball down their throat.

WILL FOLKS (26-19, 21-24 ATS) – NOTRE DAME 31 MIAMI 30

Catholics versus Convicts is back, people.  For the first time in a long time, both Notre Dame and “the U” are legitimate national title contenders – although the Irish are much better positioned in the polls and with respect to their personnel.  Tailback Josh Adams is arguably the best running back in the country – but there’s no argument that Irish guard Quenton Nelson is the best lineman (offensive or defensive) in America – and a sure-fire first round pick in next year’s NFL draft.  Left tackle Mike McGlinchey is also a guaranteed first round pick – and may get drafted ahead of Nelson given the premium NFL teams place on protecting a quarterback’s blind side.

Bottom line? The Irish are the better team here, although Miami has an athletic defense and is playing at home under the lights.

FINAL SCORE: MIAMI 41 NOTRE DAME 8

***

 #1 GEORGIA (9-0, 6-0 SEC) @ #10 AUBURN (7-2, 5-1 SEC)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn AL – 3:30 p.m. EDT – CBS
Oddshark Spread Consensus: Georgia -2.5
ESPN Matchup Predictor: Auburn 51.4 percent

THE PICKS …

BRANT BRANHAM (33-12, 24-20-1 ATS) – GEORGIA 24 AUBURN 16

This is the oldest rivalry in Dixie.  Georgia and Auburn have played 121 games with the Bulldogs leading the series 57-55-8, that’s as damn close to even as you can get.

Georgia upset the Tigers last year in Athens 13-7, dashing Auburn’s hope for a chance at a conference title. This year the Tigers look to spoil the Dawgs perfect season, and if they could beat the Tide in the Iron Bowl it could set them up for a rematch with Georgia in Atlanta.

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham is having a good year throwing for 1,996 yards with 11 touchdowns while completing 69 percent of his passes.  If the Georgia D has a weakness it’s in the secondary, and with a good receiving corps Auburn may be able to move the ball through the air.  To do that though I think they must establish some type of running game to make Georgia crowd the box and create some man coverages. That won’t be easy because the Dawgs front seven is strong as train smoke, allowing only an average of 91 yards rushing per game.

The Bulldogs running game maybe second to none, with future pros Nick Chubb and Sony Michel but Auburn’s defense, like Georgia’s also plays the run well, ranking 4th against the rush in the SEC.  That may mean freshman quarterback Jake Fromm maybe asked to do more than just take snaps and give good handoffs.

This game on The Plains should be a slug fest.  Georgia has won five of the last six against the Tigers, and I think they win again.

LIZ REARDON (25-10, 18-17 ATS) – GEORGIA 31 AUBURN 17

Georgia is the real deal this year. They are not only talented but they have tons of depth, which we saw last week against the Gamecocks.  I? think they’ll blow this one wide open.  Not as close as people expect.

WOODY WHITEHURST (27-13, 22-17-1 ATS) – GEORGIA 28 AUBURN 20

I’m very interested in how this game turns out.  Auburn has a chance to redefine the playoff over the course of the next few weeks and it could start with a win against the ‘Dawgs.  The thing is, after watching Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham get sacked 150 times against Clemson, I’m just not sure I’m convinced the Tigers’ OL holds up any better against a Georgia defense that has dominated this season.  If Jake from State Fromm has even a marginal passing performance this afternoon, I think UGA gets it done.

WILL FOLKS (26-19, 21-24 ATS) – GEORGIA 20 AUBURN 17

I want to bet against Georgia on the road against an Auburn team that’s coming together late in the season … but I just can’t.  The ‘Dawgs D is just too good, and Georgia’s ground game – while likely to face its toughest test of the season on the Plains – has been up to the challenge so far.  Auburn is a very popular upset pick here but I think Georgia goes to 10-0 in Dixie’s oldest rivalry.

FINAL SCORE: AUBURN 40 GEORGIA 17

***

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Banner: Travis Bell Photography