Ben Roethlisberger's ability to perform under a heavy pass rush remains critical to Pittsburgh's offensive success.
23 Dec 2004
By Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Vinny: Well, Russ, it's time to roll out our bowl picks. This week, we're picking the early bowl games (through December 30). I like to think of these as the Gabrielle to next week's Xena.
Russell: Before we get started, a little bookkeeping. In picks for the three early bowl games (New Orleans, Champs Sports, and GMAC) you went 2-1 and I was 1-2. Those picks are reflected in the totals in the chart at the bottom of the page.
Vinny: Hmmm, so if I can go 21-4 in the remaining bowl games, I can actually get above .500 for the season?
Russell: I think you would stand a better chance of landing a date with Lucy Lawless.
Russell: Let's hope for Cincinnati's sake they don't come out and stomp on the Marshall logo. The Bearcats tried that at Louisville and lost 70-14. I'll take Cincinnati.
Vinny: This one has a couple senior quarterbacks (Cinci's Gino Guidugli and Marshall's Stan Hill) who will get a look in the NFL. I like the Thundering Herd.
Russell: Karl Dorrell and UCLA got an oral commitment from BYU transfer QB Ben Olson, who has returned from a Mormon mission and has four years of eligibility remaining. He was the top rated QB in the nation coming out of high school. So regardless of what happens in this game, it's already been a successful bowl season for the Bruins.
Vinny: Jovon Bouknight has emerged as a game-breaker at receiver and in the return game for Wyoming. This should be a track meet with two balanced offenses and two pretty bad defenses (especially against the run).
Russell: The Bruins gave USC all it could handle in a season-ending loss to the Trojans. I think UCLA keeps the momentum going against Wyoming, a middling Mountain West team.
Vinny: Agreed on all counts. Put me down for UCLA.
Russell: Wow, Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. Go figure. In years when Hawaii isn't bowl eligible, do they even play this game?
Vinny: We would know for sure if Michigan State held on to its 21-0 lead against Hawaii on December 4. Sure enough, the Spartans came apart like a cheap suit and Hawaii became bowl eligible. That knocked Akron out of this spot. The Zips are the only bowl-eligible team in Division I-A that is home for the holidays.
Russell: Timmy Chang gets a chance to add a few more touchdown tosses and yards to his career totals in his final college game before he attempts to make an NFL team as an undrafted free agent next year. As far as UAB goes, Vin, I watched approximately 742 college football games this season and never once did I see so much as a single snap of a Blazers' contest. I've got to lay the points with Hawaii (I stayed up late to watch them on a number of occasions).
Vinny: I actually did see UAB's Darrell Hackney carve up TCU for 337 passing yards and five touchdowns (all in the first half) back in October. Hackney is listed at 235 lbs. If he's anything less than 265, I'll enter the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest next July. By the way, I like Hawaii here also.
Russell: Oh yeah, I saw that dude -- the fat QB. You never forget a chunky QB. Where's Jared Lorenzen these days?
Russell: Remember how Virginia was supposed to be an ACC heavyweight this season? Then the Cavs got smoked by Florida State, lost at home to Miami, and got beat by Virginia Tech. That's the type of performance that will typically earn you a bowl trip to play on the Smurf Turf in Boise. I liked this game better when it was known as the Sports Humanitarian Bowl. What, they don't care about humanitarianism anymore?
Vinny: I know I don't. These are two teams that like to keep it on the ground. Fresno State comes into this bowl on a five-game winning streak, outscoring its opponents 280-80.
Russell: This is a surprisingly small spread considering where Virginia was ranked at times during the season. The Cavs have the best athlete on the field in QB Marques Hagans. I have to weigh that factor against the fact that the Boise weather is likely to be too cold for Al Groh to wear a sweatshirt on the sidelines. Fresno State coach Pat Hill, on the other hand, has the best mustache in college football. Tough choice. I'll take Virginia, and make the Cavs my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Vinny: Hagans might be the best all-around athlete, but there are probably better NFL prospects in this one, including Virginia's Heath Miller (tight end) and Ahmad Brooks (linebacker) and the Bulldogs' Garrett McIntyre (defensive tackle), Logan Mankins (offensive tackle) and James Sanders (strong safety). I'm not looking forward to watching these unis against that blue field, but I think Virginia has too much talent. The Cavs cover.
Vinny: These squads favor the air attack. UConn senior quarterback Dan Orlovsky has had a somewhat disappointing season. But you can chalk that up to the (relatively) stiffer competition the Huskies' faced in their first full season in the Big East.
Russell: I used my best Detroit joke when we previewed the MAC title game that earned Toledo its return trip to the Motor City, so I'll have to play this one straight. I like the high-octane Rockets and QB Bruce Gradkowski to cover against a UConn team making its first-ever bowl appearance.
Vinny: My law school roommate is a UConn grad flying in for this game with his wife. He asked me for a breakdown of the Detroit hot spots. Needless to say, there was some silence on my end of the phone after that question. I like the Huskies here.
Russell: Miami is one of the many schools that enter bowl season with a coaching issue as RedHawks head man Terry Hoeppner recently accepted the Indiana job. He will be on the sidelines for Miami against an Iowa State team that very nearly won the Big XII North (which, let's be honest, is nothing to write home about).
Vinny: Cyclones coach Dan McCarney may have saved his job with a 37-23 win over Kansas State on November 20 that made his team bowl-eligible. His freshmen duo of quarterback Bret Meyer and receiver Todd Blythe (22.0 yards per catch) have provided some much-needed punch to the Iowa State offense.
Russell: Despite the loss of Ben Roethlisberger, the RedHawks are still dangerous offensively. I like Miami to win one for Hoeppner against a Cyclone team that opened the season as an underdog, at home, to I-AA Northern Iowa.
Vinny: Miami quarterback Josh Betts has been pressured into some bad decisions in big games this year. I think that happens again in Shreveport. The Cyclones are the pick.
Vinny: Talk about your distractions. You've got the Ty Wilingham firing, the Urban Meyer fiasco, and the Charlie Weis hiring at Notre Dame. Oh, and defensive coordinator (and interim head coach) Kent Baer interviewed at Utah State before withdrawing from their coaching derby.
Russell: Remember when these teams hooked up in the Fiesta Bowl a few years ago? While the Beavers were stomping the poor Irish, Sean McDonough spent the entire ABC broadcast explaining to Notre Dame fans how their nice Irish Catholic lads couldn't possibly play with the likes of Dennis Erickson's band of JuCo transfers and social misfits. Meanwhile, T.J. Houshmanzadeh just scored another TD. Ahh, good times.
Vinny: The Irish have been great against the run, especially in the big games. But Oregon State likes to throw it anyway (8th nationally) with quarterback Derek Anderson and receiver Mike Hass. And Notre Dame's pass defense (116th nationally) has been shredded all year. I like the Beavers to win this going away -- and I'll make this one my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Russell: I don't think the Notre Dame kids even want to play in this game -- they threatened to boycott after Willingham was fired. Oregon State covers easily.
Russell: You don't have to look too far to find a theme for this game -- it's the Coaching Redemption Bowl, featuring Big XII coach of the year Gary Barnett, who survived allegations that Colorado used sex and alcohol to lure recruits to Boulder. UTEP enjoyed one of the nation's biggest turnarounds after hiring disgraced Alabama coach Mike Price, who was fired after a stripper charged $1,000 worth of room service to his university credit card. Ahh, college sports.
Vinny: Turning the Miners around from 2-11 to 8-3 warrants Coach of the Year status for Price. He had genetics on his side in making 6-foot-5 sophomore Jordan Palmer (Carson's younger brother) look like a veteran in the spread offense. Price usually has some nice wrinkles in his offensive gameplan with this much time to prepare.
Russell: Price has done enough this year to ensure that his stay in El Paso will be a brief one. It's only a matter of time before another major program comes calling. But I'm not sure he has the hogs to stay with Colorado, which will pound the ball with Bobby Purify. I like the Buffs.
Vinny: Barnett probably deserves an award for getting the Buffs to 7-5 with his offense ranked 94th and defense ranked 101st in the nation amid all that turmoil. I think the Miners have too much firepower for the Buffs to handle. I'll take UTEP and the points.
Russell: The big news in this game is of course the suspension of Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, who was sent home for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Ohio State has declared him ineligible and will seek to have his status clarified by the NCAA. Seems like the folks in Columbus are getting awfully familiar with the NCAA honks these days. Yes, I'm still bitter over the Michigan game.
Vinny: I just don't think the Buckeyes are the same team without Smith. Justin Zwick looked indecisive and lead-footed before suffering a shoulder injury earlier this season. Ted Ginn will have to be more involved for the Buckeyes to generate any offense, even against a mediocre Cowboy defense. Ginn reminds me of my favorite Clark Kellogg quote during a college hoops telecast years ago: "He's like a baby's bottom -- smooth, and sometimes, explosive!"
Russell: As a veteran of the diaper wars, that quote hits way too close to home. Oklahoma State was good enough to put a major scare into Oklahoma this season, but inconsistent enough blow a 28-point lead to Texas. They need to get running back Vernand Morency going early in this one to have a shot, not an easy task against the stout Ohio State run D. With Zwick in the lineup, I like the Cowboys, minus the deuce.
Vinny: Cowboys coach Les Miles (a former Michigan player and assistant coach) exacts a small measure of revenge for the Buckeyes' 37-21 upset of the Wolverines. I'll also lay the points and take the Cowboys.
Vinny: The Heels are only 6-5 but look at their losses: at Virginia, Louisville, at Florida State, at Utah and Virginia Tech. On the other hand, their only quality win was at home against Miami, but they did play the Hokies tough in their last home date.
Russell: Boston College, on the other hand, may have produced the biggest choke of the entire college season when it got blown out at home by Syracuse with the Big East title and a BCS berth on the line. Even though starting quarterback Paul Peterson missed the game due to injury, there's still no excuse for that performance.
Vinny: The Heels are riding high into their first bowl game in four years. Peterson is expected back for this game, but factor in Tom O'Brien's annual post-season job hunting, the game being played three hours from Chapel Hill, and the rarely itinerant BC fan base and I don't see much going right for the Eagles. Carolina covers.
Russell: Sound logic on your part. North Carolina QB Darian Durant will have a big day as the Heels welcome Boston College to the ACC. I'm taking the Tar Heels as well.
Vinny: The only time the ball gets airborne in this game may be on kicks and option tosses. New Mexico's defense is stingy, especially against the run with nose tackle Marcus Parker in the middle and outside linebacker Nick Speegle on the edge.
Russell: Keep an eye on Navy senior Kyle Eckel, an old-school fullback in the Mike Alstott mold. If you like stone-age football, this game is for you. The over-under on the length of the game is about 2:15.
Vinny: New Mexico's superior size on the offensive defensive lines should wear Navy down. The Midshipmen keep it close early, but the Lobos cover.
Russell: You're probably right about New Mexico's physical edge, but I like Navy. The Middies don't get to many bowl games, and they'll be geared up for this one. I'll take Navy and the point.
Vinny: This should be an entertaining game, and not just because of the offense. Some great pass rushers -- Tech's Adell Duckett (14 sacks in 2003 but injured for much of this year) and Cal's Ryan Riddle (14.5 sacks) -- should make an impression on both quarterbacks.
Russell: You have to worry a little bit about Cal's state of mind after the crushing disappointment of missing out on the Rose Bowl. It seems like every time Texas would miss the BCS and get bounced into this game, they'd struggle. I think the same thing could happen to the Bears.
Vinny: Cal's defense doesn't get much ink, but it's very good. Still, you know Tech will put up some points. I'm not a big fan of the spread, but I think the Bears win convincingly (and cover) in the spotlight this time.
Russell: Cal's defense is too good for Texas Tech's finesse attack. I'll lay the points with Cal and hope the Bears come out playing like a team with something to prove, not one that thinks it's too good to be playing in San Diego instead of Pasadena.
Vinny: OK, I haven't seen either of these teams play, but I will be tuning in since Northern Illinois just got added to Michigan's slate for the 2005 season. The Huskies' Dan Sheldon is a big-game threat as a receiver (23.6 yards per catch) and in the return game. Troy has an outstanding defense (which is good, because the Trojans' offense is anemic at best) led by Demarcus Ware (10.5 sacks).
Russell: I have to admit it's kind of hard for me to get excited about this matchup. Troy played the role of giant-slayer when it won at Missouri early in the season. That's good enough for me. I'll take the Trojans.
Vinny: I'm going to flip a coin here and take the Huskies.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Cincinnati (-1) vs. Marshall||Marshall||Cincinnati|
|UCLA (-12.5) vs. Wyoming||UCLA||UCLA|
|Hawaii (pick 'em) vs. Alabama-Birmingham||Hawaii||Hawaii|
|#18 Virginia (-6) vs. Fresno State||Virginia||Virginia|
|Toledo (-3) vs. Connecticut||Connecticut||Toledo|
|Miami (Ohio) (-3) vs. Iowa State||Iowa State||Miami (Ohio)|
|Oregon State (-3) vs. Notre Dame||Oregon State||Oregon State|
|Colorado (-2) vs. UTEP||UTEP||Colorado|
|#24 Oklahoma State (-2) vs. #25 Ohio State||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State|
|North Carolina (-4) vs. Boston College||North Carolina||North Carolina|
|New Mexico (-1) vs. Navy||New Mexico||Navy|
|#5 California (-10.5) vs. #22 Texas Tech||California||California|
|Northern Illinois (-1) vs. Troy State||Northern Illinois||Troy State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week*||Season Total|
|Vinny||6-7 (1-0)||62-78-3 (5-9)|
|Russell||6-7 (0-1)||66-74-3 (9-5)|
|* "Last Week" record includes the final week of the
regular season and the three early bowl games.