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Weekend Predictions: Jackets and Bulldogs win on the road

Saturday’s game between Georgia Tech vs. South Florida features a stubborn head coach who must be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era of offensive football. 

And don’t even get me started on Paul Johnson. 

Charlie Strong tried playing his style of football at Texas — sound on defense, slow pace and field-position on offense — and it did not go well. Eventually he hired Sterlin Gilbert to run a high-tempo, spread offense inspired by Art Briles. The offense improved, but the defense, Strong’s specialty, faltered. 

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Strong was fired by Texas after the 2016 season and took Gilbert along to the University of South Florida. The school is in Tampa, which makes no sense geographically but is advantageous in terms of recruiting. Strong has always been good at that, and Willie Taggart left behind some talent when he bolted for Oregon. 

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South Florida went 10-2 last season while playing well on offense and defense. The problem for the 2018 Bulls is that most of the good players from that team are gone. The problem for the Bulls against Tech is that two of those players are defensive tackles who now are in the NFL, including the Falcons’ third-round pick Deadrin Senat. 

Johnson’s offense is apt to do what it wants against opponents that are soft up the middle. The coach grumbled about his offense after Tech blew out Alcorn State last weekend. But it’s always hard to know if Johnson really has serious concerns, if he’s just guarding against complacency or if it’s just a day ending in “y.” 

I picked the Jackets to win seven games (which, based on my Week 1 picks, means they probably are due for a collapse). I saw this as a toss-up game for the Jackets, who are favored by 3-1/2 points. I say the coin lands in favor of Tech’s old-school offense. 

Jackets win by a field goal.

» More: How to watch, stream Week 2 college football

Game of the Week 

Georgia (minus-10) at South Carolina 

This game highlights one of the bigger debates in college football: Is it possible for a head coach to wear a visor and still seem likeable? Georgia’s Kirby Smart sort of pulls it off, but he’s just started winning. Will Muschamp is 44-32 as a head coach, and that visor just isn’t helping. 

I’m less bothered by Muschamp’s fashion choice than his insistence on playing a slow style of football that even Charlie Strong abandoned. It’s an underdog strategy, and Muschamp’s Gamecocks have won seven of 16 games against favorites, but maybe they could do more if they took a chance every now and then.

It seems some people are trying to build up the Gamecocks into a serious threat to Georgia in the SEC East. I just can’t see it, even if I put on a visor and squint. Georgia covers. 

SEC games of interest 

Kentucky (plus-14) at Florida 

Last season Kentucky loss to Florida for the 31st consecutive time after leading by 14 points in the fourth quarter at home. But the Gators have a new coach, Dan Mullen, who was . . . checks notes . . . 8-1 against Kentucky as coach of Mississippi State. I’m starting to get the feeling that Kentucky hardly ever is good at football. Take the Gators and give the points. 

Wyoming (plus-18.5) at Missouri 

Derek Dooley, Vince’s son, is Mizzou’s new offensive coordinator. Dooley recently declared that Missouri’s explosive offense from 2017 wasn’t really that good, and said he just can’t understand why people still bring up that time he was fired as Tennessee head coach way back in 2012. I want to pick against Missouri just for that, but Wyoming’s allegedly good defense already was shredded by Washington State. Tigers cover. 

Nevada (plus-9.5) at Vanderbilt 

Remember when Vanderbilt hired Derek Mason away from Stanford and it seemed like a coup, with everyone wondering why one of the top assistants in the country would take that gig? That was four seasons and 31 losses ago. The line is probably right, but I just think at some point Vandy is going to Vandy. Nevada covers. 

Mississippi State (minus-9) at Kansas State 

Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead’s offense was as good as advertised in its debut against Stephen F. Austin, and that was with backup QB Keytaon Thompson. The competition stiffens, but QB Nick Fitzgerald returns from suspension, the Bulldogs cover and Fitzgerald avoids becoming Wally Pipp. (If you don’t get that reference ask Pipp’s contemporary, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder.)

» Sign up & play: AJC’s college football pick ’em contest

ACC games of interest 

Clemson (minus-12) at Texas A&M 

At least Jimbo Fisher got away from Dabo Swinney when he took the Texas A&M job and ... oh, no, look at this. Fisher fared reasonably well overall against Clemson as Florida State coach (4-4). But the Seminoles lost their last three games against the Tigers, who supplanted them as the ACC’s big boss. I’m sure Fisher will find things easier in the SEC West while carrying the weight of his huge contract. Aggies lose, but have enough defense to keep it close and cover. 

Duke (plus-2.5) at Northwestern 

David Cutcliffe is in his 11th season as Duke’s head coach. Like Paul Johnson, he’s managed to win a few games at an ACC school with relatively rigorous academics. Unlike Johnson, he has an elite basketball program as a distraction when he doesn’t win many. The Blue Devils won seven games with a young team in 2017 and handled Army in the opener (uh oh, Jackets), but Northwestern uses stout defense to cover. 

Other games of interest 

USC (plus-6) at Stanford 

USC’s head coach is Clay Helton, who looks exactly like his name. He was the interim coach when Steve Sarkisian took a leave of absence and eventually was fired, thus clearing the way for Sarkisian to one day make the Falcons look ordinary on offense. Helton’s Trojans looked good with the ball against UNLV in Week 1, and Stanford doesn’t have the defense to stop them. Trojans cover. 

Michigan State (minus-6) at Arizona State 

At his bizarre introductory news conference last winter, Arizona State coach Herm Edwards did everything possible to reinforce the perception that he would be in semi-retirement. Maybe he’s just trolling us, though, because the Sun Devils looked great while thrashing Texas-San Antonio last week. Now they cover as a home dog. 

Rutgers (plus-35.5) at Ohio State 

Last week I made the mistake of believing an awful Oregon State team could stay within 39 points of the Buckeyes. This week I’m changing it up and predicting a less-awful Rutgers team can stay within 35 points. 

Last week’s picks 

ATS: 4-5-1 (4-5-1 season) 

Pick ‘em contest (straight-up): 6-9 (6-9 season) 

Congratulations to Julie Ronchetti of Lilburn, the local winner in Week 1 of the AJC pick ’em. Ronchetti picked the winner in 12 of 15 games.

About the Author

Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 

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