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?
21 Oct 2004
By Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: Let me get this straight. Penn State is 2-4, with its only wins coming over Akron and Central Florida, while Iowa is 4-2 with wins over Michigan State and Ohio State, and the Hawkeyes are getting two and a half points in Happy Valley?
Vinny: Russ, I'm as befuddled as you on this one. But then I'm still trying to figure out how you let your wife out-prognosticate you last week. Nice work.
Russell: I knew you'd bring that up. You'd rather talk about me losing to Susan than you cleaning my clock and regaining the overall lead. Well, she's back making more picks this week, and she'll keep making picks until I beat her, at which point I'm taking my ball and going home -- or throwing her out of the column. But back to Iowa-Penn State: my "line that's too good to be true" sensors are going off, but I still can't think of a single reason why I should take Penn State. The Lions are simply not a very good football team, while Iowa has shown some nice offensive productivity behind quarterback Drew Tate. Admittedly, the Ohio State team the Hawkeyes routed last week is not very good, but I have no faith in Penn State at all. Give me the Hawkeyes and the points.
Vinny: Coming off a bye week, Michael Robinson is supposed to be back, although Joe Paterno won't tip his hand as to where he'll line up. If he's 100%, he'll add the game-breaking presence Penn State lacked in its narrow loss to Purdue. And believe it or not, these last five games for the Nits are eminently winnable. Zach Mills has to step up in his last hurrah and make some plays without turning the ball over. This Penn State defense is active and should stand up to the Hawkeyes. Tate will have to continue his impressive play of late, as Iowa is down to its fifth-string tailback, walk-on Sam Brownlee. Pass the blue and white Kool-Aid -- I'm going with JoePa.
Susan says: Iowa. I've always loved JoePa, but it's time to say goodbye.
Russell: Kansas State showed some signs of life last week, giving Oklahoma a real battle before falling 31-21. As bad as Nebraska has been at times this season -- losing at home to Southern Miss and getting edged by Texas Tech, 70-10 -- the Huskers still have a very good shot at reaching the Big 12 title game. Won't that be a fun one to watch?
Vinny: I'd rather do the dishes piling up in my sink -- I'm running out of paper plates.
Russell: Kansas State has to hope that quarterback Dylan Meier can shake off the effects of the concussion he suffered against OU. If the Wildcats can get the passing game going against Nebraska, it should open up some holes for the suddenly very ordinary KSU tailback, Darren Sproles. Who am I kidding -- there's no way I can possibly pick Nebraska after taking the Huskers in the Texas Tech debacle. K-State by a touchdown.
Vinny: I have no idea why K-State is favored by less than a touchdown here. I'm with you Russ, I can't back Bill Callahan's bunch after they laid down to the Red Raiders. If Callahan doesn't turn it around -- and quickly -- Athletic Director Steve Pederson may be back in the market for a head coach. It's that simple. I hear Rick Neuheisel is available. I'll go with everyone's favorite control freak, Bill Snyder, and the Wildcats.
Susan says: Kansas State. Since I'm a true blue University of Kentucky fan, I always have to go with the Wildcats.
Russell: Wisconsin is coming off an epic win at Purdue and is staring wide-eyed at an undefeated season. The Badgers will have to be careful against plucky Northwestern, which has a pretty good offense behind quarterback Brett Basanez. Then again, if the Badgers' top-ranked defense can bottle up Purdue's Kyle Orton, I'm thinking they can probably handle the Northwestern attack.
Vinny: Badger defensive end extraordinaire Erasmus James is sitting this one out as a casualty of one of the Boilers' controversial chop blocks last week. That will be a big relief to Basanez and tailback Noah Herron. I think the Wildcats put up some points this week. Northwestern's defense is more porous than Curt Schilling's sock, so I expect the Badgers will have no problem moving the ball either.
Russell: The only thing that concerns me about Wisconsin coming into this one is the "press clippings" factor. You know, when a team has a huge win, and spends all week basking in the national spotlight, then comes out flat against its next opponent. There's too much at stake for coach Barry Alvarez to allow Wisconsin to slip up in this game, but the spread could be a problem. Still, I have to go with Wisconsin and lay the points.
Vinny: As you alluded, I think this line is way too high. As Lee Corso likes to say, "This one will be closer than the so-called experts think." (To which I usually wonder, "Lee, aren't you one of those so-called experts?") Northwestern makes this close enough to cover.
Susan says: Wisconsin. I know I said I always picked the Wildcats, but not these losers!
Russell: You have to think Purdue will be a little deflated in this game. The Boilers blew a golden opportunity to win the Big Ten outright and get in the thick of the national championship picture with the excruciating loss to Wisconsin last week. Now the Boilers have to gear up for another very athletic defense, plus a Michigan offensive attack that has discovered some balance with the emergence of freshman tailback Mike Hart.
Vinny: Joe Tiller has understandably relied on Kyle Orton this year, but Purdue has allowed opponents to pin their ears back without respecting the run. It didn't catch up with them until last week, when Wisconsin's terrific front four harassed Orton all day. Michigan's defensive line isn't the equal of the Badgers' but Wolverine defensive coordinator Jim Hermann will be sending blitzers early and often. Purdue running back Jerod Void needs to be a factor, otherwise this could be another rout like last year's 31-3 Michigan victory.
Russell: You know, I always try to temper my predictions when it comes to Michigan because I have such an emotional stake in the outcome. But I'm feeling very confident about this game. I really like the development of Michigan's offense and the opportunistic play of the defense, especially safety Ernest Shazor, who has probably turned himself into a pretty high draft pick with his play this year. Purdue's defense doesn't impress me, and I'd like to see Orton light up a high-caliber defense before I declare him Heisman material. Michigan wins outright, and I don't think it's going to be particularly close.
Vinny: I think Purdue bounces back this week to make this a game. I'll take the Boilers and lay the points.
Russell: Ever the optimist, I see.
Vinny: And they call me a "glass half-empty guy" at work? Can you believe it?
Susan says: Michigan. I'm not sure our marriage can survive a Boilermaker pick.
Russell: I'm not sure what to make of Oklahoma State's loss to Texas A&M last week. It could be that game says more about Texas A&M than it does about Oklahoma State. Neither team has a signature win this season, and they're probably pretty evenly matched. Oklahoma State must look with jealousy at Missouri and it's Big 12 North brethren. While the Cowboys are contending with Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech in the South, Missouri is contending with Nebraska and um, um, Nebraska in the North.
Vinny: The Tigers gave Texas a game in Austin last week, actually outgaining the Longhorns with a balanced attack. Gary Pinkel's squad may be better than I thought. Meanwhile, the Cowboys let the Aggies get out to a 20-0 lead and then never recovered in Stillwater. Oklahoma State's youth on offense led to some silly penalties and turnovers. And their sack leader, defensive end Nathan Peterson, is out for the year with a torn ACL. It doesn't get any easier on the road this week. I'm taking Mizzou.
Russell: Missouri has won nine straight at home, mostly by blowout scores, but three of its last four meetings against OK State went to OT. Expect to see a lot of OK State running back Vernand Morency, who will want to make up for his costly fumbles last week. For some reason, Missouri QB Brad Smith just isn't enjoying the monster season I thought he'd have -- I have to go with the Cowboys and the points.
Susan says: Oklahoma State. No idea, I don't really care about either team.
Russell: Well look here, it's yet another opportunity for the run-and-shoot Red Raiders to have a statement win, to prove they belong with the Big 12 heavyweights. By my calculations, they're approximately 0-437 in these games. Of course, the 70 points they hung on Nebraska in their last outing couple of weeks ago no doubt have them feeling confident.
Vinny: Despite his struggles, Vincent Young will start for the 'Horns, who rank 103rd in the nation in passing offense. Running back Ramonce Taylor actually led Texas in passing yardage last week with his 48-yard touchdown toss to Young. Yeesh. Throwing the football is obviously never an issue for Texas Tech. And Jarret Hicks is averaging an astounding 19.6 yards per catch for the Raiders.
Russell: Karma alert: Former Tech head coach Spike Dykes (not a stage name) will be in town to sign copies of his new book, Spike Dykes's Tales from the Texas Tech Sideline. Actually, I don't know what kind of karma that will bring, but I just like saying "Spike Dykes," which is on my list of the 10 Greatest Sports Names Ever. Unfortunately, he retired and was replaced by Mike Leach, an arrogant coach who saw fit to even run up the score on Navy in one of those eighth-tier bowl games last year.
Vinny: Texas' defense has been excellent, even with Greg Robinson as the coordinator. This guy has gone from the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, to scapegoat for the Kansas City Chiefs last year, to the Texas Longhorns this year. He'll be coaching his kids in Pop Warner two years from now. With that theory in mind, I'm taking Tech and the deuce.
Russell: Texas' recipe for this one is simple. Cedric Benson left, Benson right, Benson up the middle. The Longhorns will eat the clock, keep Sonny Cumbie off the field and grind it out. Texas covers easily.
Susan says: Texas Tech. With Bobby Knight in the stands, the Red Raiders will be afraid to lose.
Russell: The tendency might be to think Georgia will treat this as a "look ahead" game with Florida on the schedule next week, but I don't think so. Mark Richt's teams have produced some clunkers over the years, but the Bulldogs are solid on the road. Plus, quarterback Matt Jones is a question mark for the Razorbacks with a groin injury.
Vinny: This is my "Fred Edelstein Lock." Georgia has the Hogs for lunch.
Russell: Why can't you always be that concise? Georgia has too much defense for Arkansas, no matter where this game is played. I expect the Hogs to play hard, because they always do, but talent will determine this one. I like Georgia by two touchdowns.
Susan says: Arkansas. My sister, who lives outside Atlanta, hates the Bulldogs and always bets against them, so I was pressured.
Vinny: Why do I feel like I'm watching an old Cheers episode, with Diane Chambers picking the Bears versus the Dolphins?
Russell: It's the "process server" bowl in Knoxville as Philip "Deep Throat" Fulmer and the Vols take on Mike "I only have this job because my last name is" Shula and the Alabama "yes, we're on probation -- again" Crimson Tide. The 'Bama boosters are sure to be in a tizzy for this one, as it was Fulmer that allegedly ratted out their dirty program to the NCAA, now the subject of a lawsuit. I don't think those behind-the-scenes shenanigans really affect the players. I mean, are the Alabama players going to get together and say, "let's win this one for Albert Means?" I don't think so.
Vinny: Tennessee's starting strong safety Brandon Johnson has been suspended for firing a gun in the air outside a teammate's campus apartment. Ah yes, that really brings back some fond college memories...
Russell: Yeah, like you were toting your "9" all over Ann Arbor.
Vinny: Hey, that's just how I roll.
Russell: Anyway, what this game comes down to is this: Alabama is not a very good football team and Tennessee showed me an awful lot bouncing back from a home drubbing by Auburn to shock Georgia on the road the next week. With the SEC East title well within reach, I can't see the Vols blowing this one, even though Alabama's defense is formidable.
Vinny: Alabama's defense has looked good against some pretty feeble offenses. Fulmer's offense is talented and balanced. Vols quarterback Erik Ainge has definitely put the Auburn Calamity (another alternate team nickname?) behind him and is playing like the diaper dandy he is.
Russell: I expect Alabama to keep it close for a while, but once Tennessee gets a lead, the Tide is done, since Alabama pretty much can't pass the ball. It'll be close at halftime, but Tennessee will wear down 'Bama and cover the number.
Vinny: Agreed. I'll say Tennessee 31-14.
Susan says: Tennessee ("Fred Edelstein Lock"). I grew up on the Kentucky side of the Kentucky-Tennessee border, but I've always loved "Rocky Top."
Vinny: "Rocky Top." Ugh.
Russell: Boston College has owned the battle of the Catholics in recent seasons, winning four of the last five meetings. I'm not sure the Eagles can continue the trend after their recent struggles, including an overtime loss to Pittsburgh last week.
Vinny: BC quarterback Paul Peterson isn't much of a pro prospect, but he seems to make clutch plays. The Eagles will get to their sixth straight bowl game, a school record, this year. But the party's over next year when they join the ACC.
Russell: A win will make Notre Dame Bowl bowl eligible -- enjoy Jacksonville, Domers. Notre Dame gets the W, but it won't be pretty as the defenses take center stage. I think the number's a little high -- especially if BC can ride the Patriots/Red Sox tide of Boston good will -- but I see the Irish winning going away. I'll lay the seven.
Vinny: The Eagles may have been looking ahead to this game in South Bend when they fell in overtime to Pitt last week. On the other hand, maybe they're just not very good. Actually, that's probably it. Notre Dame will prevail here by a couple touchdowns.
Susan says: Notre Dame. I'm not sure about this one. I don't know what side Jesus is on.
Vinny: Well Susan, Brock Berlin always says Jesus is on his side.
Russell: Does anybody, outside of the BCS formula-makers, believe Miami is the second-best team in the nation? Watching the Hurricanes on offense, and particularly Berlin, can be painful. Of course, the Miami defense is once again outstanding, but so is North Carolina State's.
Vinny: It seems like the only yardage Miami can consistently count on is from returner Devin Hester. And from Berlin in the fourth quarter, when his receivers (Roscoe Parrish, Sinorice Moss, et al.) usually bail him out. Of course, during last Sunday night's NFL broadcast, I heard Joe Theisman declare: "Out of the shotgun, Brock Berlin is like Daunte Culpepper. He's unstoppable." Right, Joe.
Russell: I can't wait to see what kind of sunglasses Chuck Amato comes up with for this night game. He'll have the Wolfpack ready to go. I don't think NC State can score enough points to win, particularly if the perpetually injured T.A. McClendon can't go, but the Wolfpack's defense will do enough against Berlin and the 'Canes to keep it close. I'll take NC State and the points.
Vinny: This is a tough one, but I'm expecting Miami to answer the bell after another wake-up call against Louisville last week. I'll take the 'Canes.
Susan says: Miami. I can't stand the Hurricanes, but the Wolfpack are no Wildcats.
Russell: I guess all that's left is my "Fred Edelstein Lock" -- Texas. At least I've done a good job with those this year. As for you, Susan, this is the week I reclaim my dignity. Honey, you're gonna fall like a Christian Laettner buzzer-beater.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says||Susan says|
|Iowa (+2.5) at Penn State||Penn State||Iowa||Iowa|
|Nebraska (+5.5) at Kansas State||Kansas State||Kansas State||Kansas State|
|Northwestern (+12) at Wisconsin||Northwestern||Wisconsin||Wisconsin|
|Michigan (+4) at Purdue||Purdue||Michigan||Michigan|
|Oklahoma State (+3.5) at Missouri||Missouri||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State|
|Texas (-2) at Texas Tech||Texas Tech||Texas||Texas Tech|
|Georgia (-8) at Arkansas||Georgia||Georgia||Arkansas|
|Alabama (+8) at Tennessee||Tennessee||Tennessee||Tennessee|
|Boston College (+7) at Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Notre Dame|
|Miami (Fla.) (-7.5) at North Carolina State||Miami||North Carolina State||Miami|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||6-4 (1-0)||31-38-1 (3-4)|
|Russell||3-7 (1-0)||30-39-1 (5-2)|
|Susan||5-5 (0-1)||5-5 (0-1)|
4 comments, Last at 26 Mar 2007, 11:07pm by toyota mr2