Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
23 Sep 2004
By Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
On the eve of their weekend roadie to Ann Arbor, Michigan grads Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine are back to size up the weekend in college football in the latest edition of Seventh Day Adventure. Also, feel free to use this article to discuss anything and everything about this weekend's college games -- it's the college open thead.
Russell: Let's start things off in Ann Arbor, where you and I will be sitting together in section 18 on Saturday.
Vinny: Iowa can't possibly be as bad as they looked in their 44-7 pasting by Arizona State last week, can they?
Russell: I'm not taking the bait. I'm done ever picking Michigan as a big favorite after the Notre Dame debacle. Ferentz will have the Hawkeyes ready to play Saturday, I'm sure.
Vinny: Iowa's defense was expected to be the strength of the team with Abdul Hodge, Chad Greenway and Matt Roth returning, but the Hawkeyes surrendered over 500 yards to the Sun Devils last week. Meanwhile, Sophomore QB Drew Tate and the Iowa offense struggled to garner just 100 total yards. In Ann Arbor, the Wolverines may have found a tailback in Mike Hart, who emerged during Michigan's narrow escape against San Diego State last week. Hart and QB Chad Henne give Michigan two true freshmen in the backfield. The Wolverine offense should improve each week as these kids get their bearings, but will the defense and special teams give them time to learn on the job? Michigan wins but can't cover this ridiculous spread.
Russell: Even without the history, that line is too rich for me. You know Iowa will be confident after back-to-back wins against Michigan. Michigan hasn't done anything the first three weeks to convince me it can score a bushel of points against anyone. Iowa's secondary was horrid against Andrew Walter and ASU last Saturday, but will Lloyd Carr take the wraps off Henne and allow him to throw deep to Braylon Edwards? I'm not convinced. I like Michigan at home, but not laying 13. Take Iowa and the points. Besides, Vin, have you and I ever attended a game that wasn't a nailbiter at some point?
Russell: Boston College and QB Paul Peterson have been one of the surprises of the season so far. Peterson, a JuCo transfer, has been outstanding in leading the Eagles to a 3-0 start, but I think it will be the BC defense that makes the difference against a surprisingly tough Wake Forest squad.
Vinny: The Deacons beat up on East Carolina and North Carolina A&T the past two weeks after losing their opener to Clemson in a 37-30 track meet. On defense, they've scrapped the 3-3-5 alignment this year in favor of a conventional 4-3.
Russell: We played a 5-2 in high school. Of course, we were also called the "Little Tigers," not exactly a fear-inspiring nickname. But then neither is "Demon Deacons" -- isn't that an oxymoron? Or am I just a moron? Vin, I'm going to offer my own meaningless factoid this week: BC's last win over Wake came in 1953 in a game played at Fenway Park. I like the Eagles, plus the point to get off the WF schneid this week.
Vinny: Agreed. I don't see Wake scoring many points here. Go with the Eagles.
Russell: Is it really possible that Ron Turner had an 11-win season at Illinois just three years ago? What happened to that program?
Vinny: I think I saw Ron at Kinko's yesterday. Over in West Lafayette, Purdue looks impressive after outscoring its first two opponents 110-7, but then Syracuse and Ball State aren't much better than your "Little Tigers" squads.
Russell: I'm not sure Illinois is either, particularly if they wear the monochrome pumpkin suits on Saturday. Boiler QB Kyle Orton has been sensational in the first two wins, but 20.5 is a huge line to lay on the road.
Vinny: Not in Champaign. Orton continues his Heisman campaign with a big day, provided the stench of the South Farms doesn't get to him. The Boilers roll, 48-14.
Russell: Illinois will score some points against the Purdue defense. Ninth-year starting QB John Beutjer is completing 70% of his passes and Illinois has averaged 454 yards (and 33 points) per game. Granted, their two wins were against Florida A&M and Western Michigan, but I think the Illini can score enough to cover the spread at home. Barely.
Vinny: Speaking of Western Michigan, they were also sacrificial Broncos for Virginia Tech to the tune of 63-0 two weeks ago. The Hokies have handled a couple of creampuffs after giving USC a scare in the BCA Classic.
Russell: N.C. State has to be on Letdown Alert this week. They had a huge buildup to last week's home date against Ohio State and a very deflating loss. Lost in the disappointment was the fact that their defense completely shut down the Buckeyes, although to be honest, I'm not sure how great a feat that is.
Vinny: The Wolfpack racked up 14 penalties for 121 yards against the Buckeyes. Which QB will step up for these teams? Bryan Randall has been disappointing for the Hokies and Jay Davis has struggled for N.C. State. I think Frank Beamer's special teams make enough plays (as usual) for Tech to cover.
Russell: Randall had some spectacular runs against Duke last week, but Duke's D and NCSU's D are not in the same universe. He'll do enough to get the W at home, but not the cover. Give me the Wolfpack, the points, and get me a pair of Chuck Amato's white goggles while you're at it. No, making fun of those never gets old.
Russell: This appears to be a matchup of teams headed in opposite directions. Notre Dame has recovered quite nicely from all the doom-and-gloom predictions following its opening loss to BYU to record wins over Michigan and Michigan State. Now the reeling Huskies come into South Bend after giving up 546 yards of offense in a loss to UCLA last Saturday. But is the line too high? The bettors seem to think so. This game opened at 11.5 and is now down to 10.
Vinny: Keith Gilbertson looks as clueless on the UW sideline as I do when I'm trying to assemble a new gas grill. The Irish win in a rout, 34-10.
Russell: You know that they sell pre-assembled grills, right?
Vinny: Now you tell me...
Russell: Vin, don't you have an engineering degree? I thought engineers were supposed to be able to, you know, put things together? Regardless, I don't like the spread, but I can't in good faith pick Washington, especially on the road. I'll cast a shaky vote for the Irish.
Russell: Which are you more sick of, Bowden Bowls or Tuna Bowls?
Vinny: Tough choice. I thought this was the year Chris Rix would put it all together. But then I also thought Red Cashen would never appear in a beer commercial.
Russell: Tommy Bowden might be making beer commercials soon if he can't pull off another upset of Papa's team. Clemson's win over FSU last year probably saved his job, but it also built up expectations for this season. After getting spanked on the road by the same Texas A&M squad that looked like a high school team against Utah, Clemson looks like it's going nowhere fast.
Vinny: Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst is barely completing 50 percent of his passes and how thrown 7 picks to only 4 scores. I think the 'Nole defense makes it another long day for Clemson. Give the points and take FSU.
Russell: I'm going to go with Clemson and the points -- based solely on the assumption that Daddy won't run it up on his son.
Vinny: A fork in the road game for Penn State, and maybe Wisconsin as well. Both teams, and especially their fans, would like to factor into the Big Ten race for the first time in a couple years.
Russell: I've been burned by Penn State on the road once already this season. The Lions have crushed Central Florida and Akron at home, but were beaten pretty handily by Boston College in their only road date. QB Zach Mills (another ninth-year starter on the Beutjer mold) did his best Chris Rix imitation last week with four fumbles and two INTs in the Central Florida win. He'll have to take better care of the ball against the Badgers.
Vinny: Badger tailback Anthony Davis is still sidelined by an eye injury. If he can't go, Booker Stanley will carry the mail for Wisconsin. I think Joe Paterno's squad take a big step forward with a win on the road here. Barry Alvarez's usually conservative game plan won't work quite as well without Davis in the lineup.
Russell: Well we've been in agreement far too often this week, but not here. I like Wisconsin at home and I think the three-point spread is way too much respect for Penn State. In fact, I'm making this my Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week. You know Vin, I'm batting .667 on my Edelstein locks -- take that. I'm thinking of starting a 900 number.
Vinny: A 900 number? Does your wife know about this? I'm sticking with the Nits here.
Russell: Get your mind out of the gutter. Diapers aren't cheap, and I'm certainly not making any money on my own picks. Let's move on.
Russell: Minnesota has a scary good rushing attack, but as usual in the Glen Mason era, the Gophers haven't proven themselves against anyone significant in the non-conference schedule.
Vinny: I'm still amazed Minnesota went on the road to play Colorado State last week. For them, that's pretty daring. Bryan Cupito has been solid at QB for the Gophers, and that's all they need when Marion Barber III and Lawrence Maroney are averaging over 6.8 and 7.8 yards per carry, respectively.
Russell: Minnesota has to be careful not to look ahead. With another winnable game next week against Penn State, the Gophers might be thinking about 5-0 and a Big 10 title, but they have to first get past Northwestern and QB Brett Basanez, who leads the conference in total offense. Is it just me, or does Northwestern always have a QB with a cool name?
Vinny: "Steve Schnur" sounds cool? The Wildcats have nine starters returning on defense but couldn't slow the TCU and Arizona State offenses. I don't think they can slow the Gopher running game either. Mason's crew wins easily and covers.
Russell: Well maybe not Schnur, but there was that Gavin guy. And Zack Kustok. Northwestern held Kansas to 47 yards rushing last week, but the 'Cats aren't in Kansas any more. The Gophers roll to an easy cover.
Vinny: Troy's upset streak ended last week in a loss to New Mexico State. They upended Marshall and Missouri to open their season.
Russell: Fourteen is a decent amount of points to lay given that South Carolina scored only 16 in a loss to Georgia, the only tough opponent it has faced this year.
Vinny: Ol' curmudgeon Lou Holtz plans to let 39-year old walk-on receiver Tim "Pops" Frisby play as soon as the curmuedgeonly NCAA clears him.
Russell: Wow, an actual feel-good story involving Lou Holtz. I guess if you live long enough, you'll see everything. As you noted, Troy has knocked off a couple of decent teams, but they'll be playing before 80,000 Gamecock fans this time out. Holtz knows how to put the hammer down against a lesser opponent. This one's for Pops -- I'm going with South Carolina.
Vinny: Troy QB Aaron Leak must improve his 46% completion percentage on the road. Not likely in Columbia. I'm taking South Carolina as well.
Russell: Tide fans are suddenly thinking a 7-0 start is possible if Alabama can get past Arkansas on Saturday. But they'll have to do it without starting QB Brodie Croyle, who tore his ACL last week and is done for the year. Arkansas gave Texas all it could handle in a 22-20 loss a couple of week ago. I don't like the spot Alabama is in, with an untested signal-caller in Marc Guillon playing on the road.
Vinny: On the flipside, QB Matt Jones is the only returning starter on offense for the Hogs, who won in a 34-31 shootout in Tuscaloosa last year. I think the 'bama defense gets it done on the road, even with a newbie at the offensive controls.
Russell: A shaky QB situation in a road conference game is too much for me. I also like Houston Nutt over Mike Shula in the coaching matchup. I'll go with Arkansas at home.
Russell: Well Vin, all that's missing is your Fred Edelstein Lock. Who do you like?
Vinny: Purdue. West Lafayette and Champaign are pretty much the same town, so the Boilers should feel right at home.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Iowa (+13) at Michigan||Iowa||Iowa|
|Boston College (+1) at Wake Forest||Boston College||Boston College|
|Purdue (-20.5) at Illinois||Purdue||Illinois|
|North Carolina State (+9) at Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech||North Carolina State|
|Washington (+10) at Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Notre Dame|
|Clemson (+17.5) at Florida State||Florida State||Clemson|
|Penn State (+3) at Wisconsin||Penn State||Wisconsin|
|Northwestern (+15) at Minnesota||Minnesota||Minnesota|
|Troy State +14 at South Carolina||South Carolina||South Carolina|
|Alabama (+6) at Arkansas||Alabama||Arkansas|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||5-5 (1-0)||15-15 (1-2)|
|Russell||6-4 (1-0)||13-17 (2-1)|
This column is dedicated to a reader and college football fan who passed away suddenly and tragically this week. Pete, I hope you're in a better place, my friend. May you rest in peace. RL
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