The SEC's streak of seven consecutive national championships isn't dead yet, but on the final weekend of the regular season, only Michigan State can keep it alive. Plus advanced stats, analysis and picks for the rest of championship Saturday.
07 Oct 2004
By Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: This is the first absolute must-see Saturday of the college football season. Texas-Oklahoma, USC-Cal, a couple big games in the SEC, and of course, the battle for the Little Brown Jug in Ann Arbor. Vin, want to take a guess at where I'll be at noon ET on Saturday?
Vinny: At the chiropractor?
Russell: Good guess, but no. Since I'm playing "Mr. Mom" all weekend, I'll either be at the gym or the gun club. Actually, I'll be at Chuck E. Cheese's with both kids in tow as we hit the birthday party circuit. You think they have a bar? I can only hope that my two-year old Lindsay will want to ditch the party to watch football with daddy -- the same way she ditched her Dora video to join me for Bucs-Broncos on Sunday. Of course, I had to convince her that Martin Grammatica was actually Dora's cousin Diego (if you're not a parent, trust me, that's funny).
Vinny: Swiper, no swiping! Minnesota is looking to capture the Jug, college football's oldest rivalry trophy, for the first time since 1986. The Gophers appeared to have it wrapped up after the first three quarters of last year's game before surrendering 31 points in the fourth quarter. Michigan pulled out a miraculous 38-35 victory. Or, if you're a Gopher fan, the Gophers gagged in a 38-35 loss.
Russell: Minnesota brings to Ann Arbor the two-headed rushing monster of Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III. The Gophers gashed Michigan for more than 400 rushing yards last year, mostly on the edges, but I don't think they'll have quite as much success Saturday. Michigan has done well against one-dimensional rushing teams over the years.
Vinny: Led by center Greg Eslinger, Minnesota's offensive line employs a cut-blocking style like the Denver Broncos' scheme installed by Alex Gibbs. Like last year, Minnesota enters this game undefeated, thanks in part to Glen Mason's always soft non-conference schedule. Sophomore Bryan Cupito already looks like a better passer than the departed Asad Abdul-Khaliq. Having said that, Michigan was embarrassed by its defensive performance last year and will be prepared Saturday. The Wolverines' new 3-4 defense should help slow the Gopher ground game. Freshmen Chad Henne and Mike Hart continue to improve, as Michigan escapes again with a 28-24 victory.
Russell: If Minnesota was at home, I'd be tempted to go with the Gophers. But all those non-conference patsies don't do much to prepare a team for a big road game like this one. I like the direction Michigan has taken since the Notre Dame loss -- quietly getting a little better and a little more aggressive each week. Braylon Edwards will have another big day as Michigan wins, 28-20.
Vinny: The Fighting Sweater Vests' weekly high-wire act finally caught up with them in Evanston last week. I'm still shocked that placekicker extraordinaire Mike Nugent pushed that 40-yard field goal right in overtime -- he's as automatic as it gets in the college game. The Ohio State defense has to be disappointed with how easily Northwestern moved the ball. Meanwhile, sophomore QB Justin Zwick evokes memories of Craig Krenzel, both good (2002) and bad (2003).
Russell: The years of living dangerously had to catch up with the Buckeyes at some point. Now the Badgers come to town, rejuvenated offensively by the return of tailback Anthony Davis, who had 213 yards and three touchdowns against Illinois last week after missing three games with an eye injury. Expect some stone-age football in this one, as neither team throws the ball very effectively. Hey, at least it should be over quickly.
Vinny: We can only hope so. Barry Alvarez' defense has been impressive but you usually need a difference-maker at quarterback to win these tough games on the road. I can't remember the last time the Badgers had somebody like that under center. I'll take Ohio State by a touchdown.
Russell: The "Brooks Bollinger Experience" wasn't an impact QB? Now there's a guy that all ninth-year players should be measured against. Regardless, I'll stick with Jim Tressel's troops. You don't forget how to win the close ones overnight. Ohio State gets a narrow cover.
Russell: It's the Brainiac Bowl in South Bend, as Ty Willingham gets a shot as his old squad. Just when Notre Dame was starting to look like a legitimate top-25 team, the Irish got absolutely torched at home by Purdue last Saturday. Luckily for Notre Dame, Stanford QB Trent Edwards isn't quite the offensive threat that Purdue's Kyle Orton was.
Vinny: After garnering six wins the last two seasons, some publications pegged Stanford to finish last in the Pac-10. Buddy Teevens' squad caught everyone's attention a few weeks back by giving top-ranked USC a scare before falling 31-28. With a tough defense and balanced offense, I think the Cardinal notches its fourth win of the year in South Bend. I don't think the Irish can bounce back from another embarrassing loss this week.
Russell: This is Stanford's first road game of the season after four straight at home. The last time the Cardinal won a game this far from home, "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell turned a three-TD day in South Bend into a very mediocre NFL career. I don't feel great about it, but I have to stick with the Irish at home.
Vinny: Both teams are coming off of routs; they were just on opposite ends of the score. Georgia handled LSU 45-16 at home, while the Vols were pasted 34-10 by Auburn in Knoxville. Tennessee managed only 107 rushing yards against Auburn. That put true freshmen QB's Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer in too many 3rd-and-longs, hence the five interceptions. I think Thomas Davis, Odell Thurman and the Dawg defense will put the Vols in similar situations this week. And, by the way, this is Ainge and Schaeffer's first road test. Woof. Georgia in a laugher, 38-13.
Russell: After last Saturday, it looks very much like the men (Auburn and Georgia) have separated themselves from the boys (LSU and Tennessee) in the SEC, with Florida a threat to ruin the big boys' party. But still, the line on this game scares me. Georgia made it look too easy last week, and I think Tennessee will be embarrassed by the way it played against Auburn. I'm not sure I trust Georgia to handle a week of hearing how great it is. My gut tells me to take Tennessee and the points.
Russell: Florida has been flying under the radar since its controversial loss at Tennessee three weeks ago, and now the Gators get a reeling LSU team at home. This game boils down to a gut-check for LSU. The Tigers could easily have three losses already and if they drop this one, they could be looking at a long year.
Vinny: LSU can't afford to turn the ball over and repeatedly give their opponent a short field again this week -- their QB tandem isn't good enough to rally in places like Athens and Gainesville. Chris Leak is already one of the best signal-callers in the country. As a freshman last year, he led Florida to a 19-7 win in Baton Rouge. I like the Gators to execute the same gameplan that worked for Georgia last week: stop the run and force the Tigers to beat you through the air. Florida covers.
Russell: I agree with you on Leak, who is harnessing his spectacular athletic ability and learning to use the threat of the scramble to create big plays in the passing game. That has opened things up for Ciatrick Fason, who's averaged nearly seven yards per carry since the start of last season. I also like the Gators at home and the spread of three is too low. I'm making this my "Fred Edelstein Lock." Vin, I want to make sure you understand that concept -- it's the pick you're MOST confident about.
Vinny: Russ, I never liked you.
Vinny: The last time USC lost was September 27, 2003, in a 34-31 triple overtime thriller to Cal. The Trojans have probably been licking their chops for this rematch since spring ball. The Bears throttled Oregon State in Corvallis last week, but Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Arrington & Co. know they now have a colossal task. Pete Carroll's defense has shown some vulnerability, but with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush lighting up the scoreboard, they're still pretty close to unstoppable on offense. USC wins in a walk, 45-24.
Russell: The College Gameday crew will tailgate with the wine-and-cheese crowd outside a sold-out Coliseum on Saturday, as this is being called one of the biggest Pac-10 games in a decade. Shockingly, Vin, your logic is pretty sound on this one. Cal is a solid team, but its upset of USC last year involved a lot of luck. The Men of Troy bring too much speed on defense and Cal has no answer for Bush. SC wins by at least two touchdowns.
Russell: Team Under Armour is back in action after a bye week and takes on Georgia Tech, which could muster absolutely no offense in losing 27-3 to Miami last week. Maryland is 3-1, but I'm not putting a lot of stock in wins over Northern Illinois, Temple and Duke. The Terps are a middling team that could end up 9-3 or 10-2 without scoring an impressive win all year, but I like them against the reeling Yellow Jackets, who have to hope that injured tailback P.J. Daniels can return to the lineup and make a difference on Saturday. In my best Dr. Z, "Maryland is the pick." (sips wine)
Vinny: Terps QB Joel Statham has been shaky at times, but Jackets QB Reggie Ball has been worse. Both teams have shown an ability to run the ball behind veteran offensive lines. Bottom line: if Chan Gailey is the answer, I don't want to know the question. Give the points and take the Terps.
Vinny: Yes, we're talking about Rutgers again. Why? Because they're playing Vanderbilt, which is somehow a favorite for the second consecutive week -- you don't see that often. The 'dores dispatched Mississippi State 31-13 last Saturday. Vandy's Jay Cutler could makes plays with his legs as a freshman, but last year emerged as a solid passer as well. Rutgers yielded 371 rushing yards in the Carrier Dome last Saturday while blowing a late lead to Syracuse. Vandy backs Norvall McKenzie and Kwane Doster should pad their rushing stats this week. Bobby Johnson's bunch (Vandy) gets another win by a 34-20 score.
Russell: Are you sure you're not just a Jersey Boy at heart? I can see that this is the point in the schedule where Rutgers' high hopes begin to fall apart. They blew the Syracuse game (and the point spread) in spectacular fashion last week and a road test at Vandy is probably not the cure for what ails the Knights. I always hate to agree with you, but I have to go with the Big V and lay the points.
Russell: Things are getting grim in Husker land when NU is a TD 'dog to any Big XII team not named Texas or Oklahoma. This is the classic case of a game that will be decided by these teams' weaker units. Texas Tech scores points in bunches, but can't stop anybody, while Nebraska can't seem to score at all but still has a great defense. So it will probably be the Tech defense and the Nebraska offense that decide matters.
Vinny: Every year, Mike Leach seems to throw a senior QB into his fun-and-gun offense with success -- whether it's been Kliff Kingsbury, B.J. Symons, or now Sonny Combie. The latter has already racked up over 2,000 passing yards during Tech's creampuff portion of its schedule. The Huskers lead the conference in turnovers with 4.0 per game, mostly thanks to Joe Dailey's 11 interceptions. When in doubt, go with the better quarterback. I like Tech to cover here.
Russell: I like Texas Tech, but that number's too high for me. I'll take Nebraska and the points. The Black Shirts have too much pride to allow the Red Raiders' finesse attack to light them up.
Vinny: I've just been given the results of a DNA test that confirms Mack Brown is the long-lost brother of John Cooper. Brown has sophomore Vincent Young going for him, who has, yes, Michael Vick-like talent at QB. Young is 6-1 as a starter since taking over for Chance Mock after last year's 65-13 thrashing at the hands of the Sooners. Meanwhile, star tailback Cedric Benson has taken some heat for stating his preference for the Heisman trophy over beating OU. Over in Norman, Bobby Stoops' defense has shown some chinks in the armor at times this year. Maybe they miss Dusty Dvoracek at defensive tackle, whom Stoops booted off the team three weeks ago for another off-the-field incident. All the while, nobody seems to be talking about OU quarterback (and Heisman winner) Jason White, who may finally be healthy again.
Russell: Brown has got to feel the noose tightening. He can win 10 games a year forever, but if he doesn't beat OU one of these years, he's going to get run out of town. Texas has clearly inherited the mantle of "powerhouse school that hasn't won anything meaningful in forever" from Tennessee, which inherited it from Michigan, which inherited it from Nebraska. They'll keep things close, but in the end, the Sooners and freshman sensation tailback Adrian Peterson will prevail by 10 points.
Vinny: Like Cooper, Brown should have the law of averages going for him at this point. I was ready to take Texas in this one until I saw Chris Simms is starting for the Bucs this Sunday. I'll take that as a sign from above. The Sooners top the 'Horns 28-17.
Russell: You know how much I've always loved Simms and his automatic four turnovers in a big game. He was a fitting QB for the Longhorn program -- a ton of talent, some pretty stats, and at the end of the day, not much accomplished. Kind of like your contribution to this column.
Vinny: Thank you very little. By the way, my "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" is on USC, even though Pete Carroll would probably feed chili to a baby...
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the WeekH in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Minnesota (+3.5) at Michigan||Michigan||Michigan|
|Wisconsin (+3) at Ohio State||Ohio State||Ohio State|
|Stanford (+4.5) at Notre Dame||Stanford||Notre Dame|
|Tennessee (+12.5) at Georgia||Georgia||Tennessee|
|LSU (+3.5) at Florida||Florida||Florida|
|California (+7) at Southern California||Southern California||Southern California|
|Georgia Tech (+12) at Maryland||Maryland||Maryland|
|Rutgers (+6.5) at Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt|
|Nebraska (-7) at Texas Tech||Texas Tech||Nebraska|
|Oklahoma (-7) vs. Texas||Oklahoma||Oklahoma|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||5-5 (1-0)||23-26-1 (2-3)|
|Russell||5-5 (1-0)||24-25-1 (4-1)|