Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
25 Nov 2004
By Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Vinny: Well Russ, I survived Vegas, despite the fact that I lost on every Big Ten game. My worst bet of the day was putting money on Michigan State. I should have known John L.'s boys would fall flat again after a big win -- even against the hapless Nittany Lions. My best bet was taking Navy and giving 3.5 points to Rutgers. I knew I should have put more cash on that one.
Russell: I'm glad to hear you're still in possession of your car and all of your limbs. Any horror stories to share?
Vinny: Yep: Alabama's last-minute touchdown on fourth down to cover against Auburn. A classic Vegas moment in the sports book where half the crowd exults in victory while the other half rips up their bet slips. Now it's on to Eastern Europe, where I hear Michigan defensive coordinator Jim Hermann is in hiding...
Russell: Eastern Europe? Are you sure you're not the one going into hiding?
Vinny: Nah, I'm good. Actually, one thing we forgot to do last week was plug our friend Greg Emmanuel's The 100-Yard War, a great new book on the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
Russell: Agreed. And just in time for former high school foes to renew the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry on the fields of the NFL. It's Drew Henson vs. Craig Krenzel, facing off in the 100-Yard Bore!
Russell: The "Backyard Brawl" is another of America's underrated rivalry games. There is a genuine dislike between these teams and these schools, although that seems to be a common theme where West Virginia is involved.
Vinny: One thing is for sure. Nobody will be interviewing Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko after the F-bomb he dropped in his post-game comments on NBC following the Panthers' win in South Bend.
Russell: These two teams pretty much sum up the sorry state of the Big East this season. West Virginia appeared to have a yellow brick road to the BCS, but lost its only two tough games of the year, to Virginia Tech and Boston College. That paved the way for the ACC-bound Eagles to grab the conference's automatic bid. Pittsburgh was stumbling so badly at midseason that coach Walt Harris was all but fired in the local media, but his club has rebounded nicely, winning at Notre Dame and headed to a bowl for the fifth straight season. I have to go with the team that's playing better, and that's Pittsburgh. Palko leads the Panthers to a win over a West Virginia team that appears ready to put a stamp on the season and mail it in.
Vinny: No question that the Mountaineers are stumbling to the finish line. I'll take Pittsburgh and the field goal.
Vinny: There have been better days for these programs, and we're not just talking about their records. Just when CU was getting past that recruiting scandal, AD Dick Tharp has resigned amid new allegations involving questionable fundraising efforts by a booster club and a business deal between coach Gary Barnett and a Colorado regent. Meanwhile, Nebraska lineman Derrick DeLone faces a felony assault charge for allegedly beating up an Oklahoma student spirit group member before the November 13 game against the Sooners. Coach Bill Callahan says DeLone will play against the Huskers.
Russell: This is actually the second year in a row Nebraska has had an incident with fans. Are we sure Ron Artest didn't play for the Huskers?
Vinny: Maybe Callahan thinks he's still in Oakland. DeLone wasn't defending himself against a schizophrenic, alcoholic, bi-polar ex-con who covers his body with acrylic silver paint and whose pre-game ritual consists of sacrificing a farm animal while blasting Black Sabbath's Live Evil before he joins thousands like him in The Black Hole. On a college campus, your typical member of a spirit group is a pencil-necked 19-year old art history major who covers himself with the latest Ralph Lauren stylings and whose pre-game ritual involves Celine Dion's Au Coeur Du Stade.
Russell: Colorado needs to clean up its act, too. Maybe the school could bring back coach-educator Bill McCartney and his gang of police-lineup veterans. Oh, that's right, coach Mac is too busy healing the moral fiber of America these days. Hard to believe this rivalry actually dominated the Big 8/Big XII at one point. Once spotted on the bumper of a car with Nebraska plates: a sticker reading "Sal is dead, go Big Red" in reference to late CU quarterback Sal Aunese. Boy, nothing speaks to the honor and tradition of a college rivalry like mocking the dead.
Vinny: Both teams had last week off. Nebraska needs this game to be bowl eligible, but I think they fall flat at home. I'm going with the Buffs and the points. Callahan will spend the off-season recording "Nothing Broken But My West Coast Offense."
Russell: I'm still too disturbed by your knowledge of Celine Dion's discography to think straight -- are you sure you spent all your time in the sports book in Vegas? I'll take Nebraska at home and lay the field goal.
Russell: LSU was all but written off as soon as it dropped out of the race to defend its national title with a pair of early losses. The lack of attention must be getting to Nick Saban's ego, because despite a contract that makes him the highest paid college coach in America, NFL rumors are once again swirling. I wouldn't be surprised to find Saban on the Dolphins sidelines next season.
Vinny: Saban has done arguably as good a job this year as he did during last year's co-national title campaign. Frankly though, I think LSU would have at least one more win if he had settled on a quarterback (either Marcus Randall or JaMarcus Russell) early on.
Russell: You have to admire the job Houston Nutt has done at Arkansas (and how can you not admire the guy just for being named Houston Nutt?). The Razorbacks never have quite the same talent level as the SEC heavyweights, but they're always a threat to pull off an upset, particularly at home. You also have to admire Nutt for having the presence of mind to turn down mega-bucks to coach the train wreck that is Nebraska.
Vinny: With all their youth, the Hogs have been fading fast. LSU is the pick, even on the road.
Russell: I like Arkansas to hang with LSU throughout. Arkansas hasn't had one of those five- or seven-OT games yet this year, maybe this is the day. I'll take the Hogs and the points.
Vinny: If not for the Aggies' 35-34 loss to Baylor on October 30, I think most A&M fans would agree that their team has had a great year. A win over the Longhorns would double the Aggies' win total from last year and put a nice feather in their cap of a season.
Russell: An A&M win could also create some serious chaos in the BCS. What's the over/under on attendance for a Michigan-Boise State Rose Bowl? Coach Fran has done an amazing job to get the Aggies turned around in just two seasons, which generally means it's time for him to start looking for a new job.
Vinny: A&M has kept some very good backs -- including Adrian Peterson, Vernand Morency and Darren Sproles -- under relative control this season. But Texas can hurt you on the ground with quarterback Vincent Young as well as Cedric Benson. And the Aggies have lost four in a row to Texas, including last year's 46-15 pasting in Austin. Still, I like A&M to at least keep this close enough to cover, even on the road.
Russell: Texas still has a shot at the BCS, but it probably require the Longhorns to absolutely hammer A&M and pass Cal in the human polls. I'm not sure whose appearance in the BCS would be a bigger harbinger of biblical Armageddon -- Texas or Boise State. I like the Longhorns to hang a big number on the Aggies (but fall short of the BCS yet again).
Russell: Boston College is a win away from claiming a BCS berth despite losses to Wake Forest and Pittsburgh. With the way things have gone in the Big East this year, wouldn't it be fitting for Syracuse to knock off the Eagles, who are without starting quarterback Paul Peterson (broken hand)?
Vinny: Nothing would surprise me at this point in the Big East. What a disaster.
Russell: It looks like the folks that run the CoachPMustGo.com Web site will get another year to complain about the Syracuse head coach. Pasqualoni has seemingly been on thin ice forever, but his close friend and supporter, retiring athletic director Jake Crouthamel may have timed his departure to make it more difficult to replace Pasqualoni this year.
Vinny: Pasqualoni's troubles have mostly stemmed from his inability to recruit a solid quarterback since Donovan McNabb was booed off the stage at Madison Square Garden. Defenses just don't respect the pass and have been ganged up to stop tailback Walter Reyes.
Russell: With Peterson out, BC will have to rely on backup Matt Ryan. They'll win, but won't cover. I'll take Syracuse and the points.
Vinny: I can't cast my lot with the Orangemen here, especially on the road. I'll lay the points and take the Eagles.
Russell: Texas Tech has actually been a little tougher at home than I've given them credit for this year. They put a 70 on the board against Nebraska, and jumped out to a huge lead against Texas before being buried in an avalanche of points. Normally a run-and-shoot squad is vulnerable against a ball-control team like Oklahoma State, however.
Vinny: The Raiders are looking for a win over a quality team. They lost a 32-25 overtime heartbreaker to Texas A&M two weeks ago. Sonny Combie threw three picks in the loss.
Russell: The Cowboys will want to possess the football and move the chains with tailback Vernand Morency, who should return from a knee injury in this game, but Tech has to be wary over overplaying the run. It isn't always pretty, but Oklahoma State QB Donovan Woods can hurt you with the big pass play now and then -- just ask Oklahoma, which got all it could handle from the Cowboys back in October.
Vinny: The Woods brothers are fun to watch. I like Les Miles' Oklahoma State squad to win this game outright.
Russell: I'm going to buck my trend of picking against Texas Tech this year and hope that the Raiders can manage to win this one by a touchdown.
Russell: Wow, we haven't done a game this bad since Rutgers-Vandy. This is not a banner year in the history of Egg Bowl, which is a fitting title for these two teams this season.
Vinny: Ah, the Egg Bowl. Now that Eli Manning has left campus, you have to wonder if David Cutcliffe can get the Rebels back into contention in the SEC.
Russell: Mississippi State has struggled all season under new coach Sylvester Croom. The Bulldogs can take comfort in the fact that their win over Florida cost Ron Zook his job.
Vinny: MSU is 0-3 on the road, and none of those games have been close. This is a rivalry game, but I'll stick with the Rebs and lay the points.
Russell: Tough call, but I've got to go with Ole Miss at home as well. I'll take my chances with Colonel Reb.
Russell: Virginia Tech is not backing down from expectations as it heads into its first-ever ACC contest against Virginia. Both players and coach Frank Beamer have labeled it the biggest game in the history of the rivalry.
Vinny: The Hokies have won six straight. In fact, Virginia Tech leads the conference in scoring, but you won't find any of its players among the conference leaders aside from kicker Brandon Pace. That's Beamer Ball.
Russell: The Hokies are still on track to win the ACC and qualify for the BCS if they can beat Virginia and Miami in their final two games. Beamer's boys are no doubt drawing motivation from the fact that they were not really wanted by the ACC, which courted Syracuse before receiving pressure from the Virginia governor's office. Claiming the conference's BCS bid in their first season would be sweet revenge.
Vinny: The Cavs have come up short against top-flight competition this year (read: Miami and Florida State). I think they stay true to form. The Hokies will cover.
Russell: You have to consider Virgina one of the great frauds of this season after their efforts against the Seminoles and Hurricanes. I'm going with Virginia Tech (Fred Edelstein lock).
Russell: OK, let's assume for a minute that Texas A&M upsets Texas on Friday. The pollsters will be fully aware of the implications of Boise moving up to the sixth spot in the BCS. I think they'll take a long, hard look at this game to decide if the Broncos are worthy. Because if Boise claims that second at-large bid (along with Utah) and No. 4 Cal goes 10-1 and gets shut out, all hell is going to break loose.
Vinny: It would be interesting to see how well Boise State travels if they do end up in the BCS, but I'm sure the Tournament of Roses folks aren't all that curious.
Russell: Utah's a nice story and has the novelty factor going for it as it heads into a BCS game. I don't think any of the ugly-sportcoat set (the Bowl directors) are interested in Boise, which not only represents a television market that is the U.S. equivalent of Siberia, but frankly, the 10-0 Broncos aren't that good. They've only played three road games and have given up more than 40 points in all three, including to WAC doormats San Jose State and Tulsa.
Vinny: Before I saw them play Oregon State in September, I assumed the Broncos' high scoring offense was mostly a gimmicky passing attack. But they move the ball on the ground (238 yards per game) almost as much as they do through the air (268 yards per game). And they have scored 43 rushing touchdowns (14 by quarterback Jared Zabransky) to only 14 through the air. Still, Boise State has failed to cover in each road game this season, while Nevada has covered (and won) in all of its home games. The Broncos win here but don't cover. Based on Boise's road history, I'm making this my Fred Edelstein lock.
Russell: Right on. Boise is just not the same team when it gets away from the Smurf turf. I'll take Nevada and the points, and hope the pollsters come to their senses, especially if Texas loses. Boise is a decent team that's had a great season, but they couldn't play within three touchdowns of the other BCS participants. Well maybe Boston College.
Vinny: Unlike Virginia, the Irish have come up big in the big games, knocking off Michigan at home and Tennessee on the road. Quarterback Brady Quinn has stepped it up this year, but he's had to since the running game isn't where Ty Willingham would like it. Tailback Darius Walker has tailed off after a great start and Ryan Grant hasn't found his groove all year.
Russell: USC was off last week, allowing Snoop Dogg to drop in on a Trojans practice. The poll voters reacted by chopping into USC's first-place votes in both polls. Coincidence? This is USC's final chance to make a big impression on the voters, as a win over Notre Dame still carries weight, no matter the Irish's record.
Vinny: The Notre Dame defense has been the difference in their upsets this season, but the USC offense is a tall order. I think the Irish can slow down LenDale White between the tackles. But Justin Tuck had better get to Matt Leinart early and often, because the Irish secondary is suspect. And I don't know how Notre Dame plans to stop Reggie Bush. All that said, I expect a big time effort again from the Leprachauns, so I'll take the Irish and the points.
Russell: USC has crushed the Irish two years in a row by a combined score of 89-27. Notre Dame has played its best in its biggest games this year, but the Irish have no match for USC's speed all over the field. Leinart will put up huge numbers as USC rolls.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Weekâ€? in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|#23 West Virginia (-3) at Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh|
|Colorado (+ 3) at Nebraska||Colorado||Nebraska|
|#13 LSU (-4) at Arkansas||LSU||Arkansas|
|#19 Texas A&M (+10.5) at #5 Texas||Texas A&M||Texas|
|Syracuse (+11.5) at #21 Boston College||Boston College||Syracuse|
|#22 Oklahoma State (+5) at Texas Tech||Oklahoma State||Texas Tech|
|Mississippi State (+6) at Mississippi||Mississippi||Mississippi|
|#17 Virginia (+3.5) at #14 Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech|
|#7 Boise State (-26) at Nevada||Nevada||Nevada|
|Notre Dame (+22.5) at #1 USC||Notre Dame||USC|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Weekâ€? record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||5-5 (0-1)||51-66-3 (4-8)|
|Russell||6-4 (1-0)||53-64-3 (8-4)|