Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
16 Sep 2004
By Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Despite limited success (or, in Russell's case, unlimited failure) the first two weeks, the Seventh Day Adventure crew is back with another not-so-serious look at the upcoming weekend in college football. Warning: Follow this advice at your own risk! Come Saturday, feel free to use this as your open thread to discuss this week's college games.
Russell: Based on my pick last week, Ohio State is one of the (many) teams I obviously don't have a clue about. I do know this -- any team that finds a way to win as many close games as the Buckeyes is more than lucky. That's the sign of a well-coached team. And Vin, you know I dole out compliments to the Buckeyes the way Tiger Woods doles out tips to Vegas bellhops.
Vinny: Yes, you have to give it to the Fighting Sweater Vests, they have a flair for the dramatic. Mike Nugent's 55-yard FG as time expired gave Ohio State the win over Marshall last week. This game should give us an indication of just how good Ohio State and N.C. State really are. The Wolfpack handled Richmond easily two weeks ago but now are looking to avenge their loss in Columbus last year in that 44-38 triple overtime classic. There was some questionable playcalling by Goodfellas extra Chuck Amato in the third overtime, e.g., sending T.A. McClendon and Phillip Rivers right up the gut two times each against the Buckeye defense inside the 10-yard line. McClendon came up inches short of the goal line on fourth down.
Russell: How could I forget? That game took 17 hours, so last year's Michigan-Notre Dame game -- one I actually wanted to see, as it turns out -- didn't come on the air until well into the second quarter. And speaking of Amato, did you know he has his own line of signature sunglasses? I mean, who'd want to take credit for those white goggles he wears? Anyway, I don't think this one will be as close as last year. Ohio State finds another way to win, I'll say 21-13. One word of caution to OSU fans thinking of making the roadie this week -- two people were murdered while tailgating before the Wolfpack home opener two weeks ago. Something to keep in mind.
Vinny: McClendon (hamstring), right tackle Derek Morris (ankle) and safety Andre Maddox (hamstring) are all nursing injuries and listed as questionable for the game by Amato. My money is on all three playing and playing well. The Wolfpack thought about the loss to Ohio State the entire off-season. The Buckeyes have to get their running game going and can't afford to lose the turnover battle again this week. I'll take N.C. State to win outright here.
Russell: Let's hope Hurricane Ivan doesn't mess with this one. Auburn fans, I apologize. I was ready to write this team off before the season, but they crushed Louisiana-Monroe and then took Mississippi State behind the woodshed in a 43-14 road win last week.
Vinny: Both LSU and Auburn have November 6 off, but Tommy Tuberville isn't thrilled with the prospect of playing LSU, Georgia and Alabama on consecutive Saturdays if the game has to be rescheduled to that date. They may opt to play this one on Sunday. Rotation is the theme for this game. The Tiger offense rolled up 465 yards of total offense in Starkville with Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown rotating at tailback. Meanwhile, Nick Saban says he will continue to rotate quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell and Marcus Randall -- is that confusing enough for you Russ?
Russell: That's not confusing. Confusing is the look my two-year-old gives me when I scream at the TV on Saturdays. Auburn's better than I thought, but they're not ready to win this kind of game just yet. LSU has to get more production out of its passing game, whether it's from Marcus or JaMarcus. Eventually, I think Saban will go with the freshman Russell, who begins to take command of the job this week as LSU wins a close one.
Vinny: I like Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges' running back-by-committee approach more than Saban's QB-by-committee. This Auburn team has a chip on its collective shoulder after being branded by some as the biggest disappointment in college football last year. I'm going with the Tigers, er War Eagles ... or is it Plainsmen? Auburn in a tight one, 31-28.
Russell: I long for the days when you could just look at this matchup and put down a "W" for Florida. You know, "the Peyton Years."
Vinny: Ouch. That's almost as vicious as the shot Eli took at the end of the Giants-Eagles game on Sunday.
Russell: Has Eli found his head yet? Welcome to the NFL, kid. Tennessee is another team that rotates QBs, with a pair of true freshmen, Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge, splitting time. They looked great in a season-opening win against UNLV, and the Vols have had a week off to prep for Florida. I like Tennessee at home, by a touchdown.
Vinny: Everyone's favorite confidential source Phil Fulmer is appealing his $10,000 fine handed down by the SEC for skipping the conference's media days back in August. Meanwhile, Steve Spurrier's shadow continues to loom over Ron Zook. The Gators have a favorable schedule and this game may be the only obstacle preventing a 5-0 start before they host LSU in Gainesville. Chris Leak has some experience to lean on after an up and down (but mostly up) freshman season. He's facing a formidable front seven in John Chavis' attacking defense, led by DE Parys Haralson. In another vote against the QB-by-committee approach, I'm taking the Gators, plus the points.
Russell: There was a riot outside an Omaha cable company after some Nebraska fans had trouble getting their opener on pay-per-view two Saturdays ago. Care to speculate what the reaction was this past Saturday after the Huskers lost at home to Southern Miss.? Memo to Bill Callahan: Nebraska fans have witnessed exactly seven home losses in 16-plus years. The school fired Frank Solich for going 9-3 last season. I hope you've got an easy-out lease.
Vinny: The Huskers outgained Southern Miss 2-to-1 in total yardage but lost the turnover battle 5-to-1. Pitt is rebuilding and has some concerns at QB, offensive line and running back. Oh, and Larry Fitzgerald is gone. I think Nebraska wins in a rout on the road here, 44-7.
Russell: As long as Nebraska QB Joe "the human turnover" Dailey limits the INTs to say, three this week, I'm with you. Nebraska gets a road laugher. Wow, do we actually agree?
Vinny: Let's hope it works better for us than last week.
Russell: I'd like to forget last week ever happened.
Vinny: In an attempt to incorporate football jargon wherever possible while making excuses for my putrid picks last week, I've decided that I am now a "downhill" prognosticator.
Vinny: The Terps manhandled the Mountaineers (insert Ned Beatty joke here) twice last year, to the tune of 34-7 in the regular season and 41-7 in the Gator Bowl. Can Rich Rodriguez solve Ralph Friedgen's mastery this year?
Russell: You mean the coach of Team Under Armour? Actually, Friedgen looks a little bit like Beatty, who should have "protected his house" so well. Maryland must be looking at West Virginia and its Big East schedule with envy. The Terps could compete for the Big East title, but look like a second-tier team in the toughened-up ACC. I like standout running back Kay-Jay Harris -- who says he'll play with a tweaked hamstring -- and the Mountaineers in this one, but 6.5 is a little much for me. I'll take Maryland and the points.
Vinny: Harris is averaging 12.7 yards per carry after the Mountaineers' first two games against directional patsies East Carolina and Central Florida. But will West Virginia be able to mount a pass rush in the fourth quarter? That's what cost them in losses to Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Miami (FL) last year. Maryland QB Joel Statham has to like the fact that offensive linemen Kyle Schmitt, C.J. Brooks and Stephon Heyer will be protecting his blind side. West Virginia covers (barely), 28-21.
Russell: This is the head-scratcher line of the week. Kentucky lost 28-0 to Louisville in its only game of the season. Indiana is 2-0 and coming off the program's biggest win in years, a 30-24 road victory against Oregon at always-tough Autzen Stadium. Yet Kentucky is the favorite.
Vinny: Are you the one who says when a line is too good to be true, something something something? Actually, I generally don't pay attention to you when you're talking.
Russell: Based on my performance this season, that's probably wise. But yes, I'm the guy that says any line that looks too good to be true probably is. I can't think of any reason why I should pick Kentucky in this one. Well, I can think of one: the sun will probably rise in the West before IU coach Gerry DiNardo has a great season. The guy was even terrible in the XFL. But I'm going with Kentucky to win big, because you never, ever go against the line that looks too good to be true.
Vinny: You've got to have some respect for DiNardo -- he conned LSU into giving him a job after going 18-26 at Vanderbilt. Now that's a salesman. I'm going with the Hoosiers in this one, if only because BenJarvus Green-Ellis might be the coolest name I've ever heard.
Russell: You'll see, my friend. There's a reason why they keep building those billion-dollar casinos.
Vinny: There's also a reason why I dated a girl who owned a total of 3 CD's back in '98. I just haven't figured it out yet.
Russell: That's saying something coming from a guy who owns the lone CD by that 1980s supergroup GTR.
Russell: Will the real Notre Dame please stand up? Actually, I tend to believe that in reality the Irish are going to be more like the team that beat Michigan than the one that lost to BYU. Especially if freshman tailback Darius Rucker, uh, I mean Walker, can run like he did against the Wolverines (31 carries, 115 yards, two touchdowns). Michigan State, on the other hand, lost to Rutgers, and Rutgers lost to I-AA New Hampshire. Climbing Mt. Kilaminjaro in the offseason hasn't done anything to help Spartans coach John L. Smith produce a consistent winner in East Lansing. However, I'm not sure this Notre Dame team knows how to handle success. I'll swallow hard and go with Sparty at home, lay the 3.5.
Vinny: As usual, Michigan dominated the first half in South Bend last week but didn't go for the jugular. Credit Notre Dame for hanging around until the vaunted Wolverine defense tired and the Wolverine special teams crumbled. It's more formulaic than Ben Affleck's last 9 movies.
Russell: The next time I want to pick Michigan on the road against Notre Dame, please remind me that you're 0-3 in road trips to that place. Do you believe Michigan State can reclaim some of the hand state's pride on Saturday?
Vinny: I don't think so. Damon Dowdell started the opener but was riding the pine last week as Drew Stanton and Stephen Reaves got their chances to run the offense. In a rare move, Smith has closed practice this week. Meanwhile, Walker has given the Irish offense a shot in the arm. His speed on the edge is reminiscent of former Northwestern tailback Damien Anderson. Given the Spartans' disarray, I think the Irish win easily on the road, 30-14.
Russell: USC is one of the largest road favorites you'll ever see in the Norm Chow Bowl in Provo. Those are three names I enjoy: Norm, Chow and Provo. Since Chow's departure, BYU's offense has been in free-fall. The upshot is they actually have a defense these days, as the Irish can attest. But stopping Notre Dame and stopping USC are two different animals, wouldn't you agree?
Vinny: Absolutely, although you wonder if Ty Willingham now wishes he had played Walker against BYU -- the Irish could be 2-0 right now. This USC-BYU game was originally scheduled for September 4 before Notre Dame convinced the teams to move the game. BYU had to move its game against Stanford up a week, and got spanked 37-10 by the Cardinal in Palo Alto, which is just as well since spanking is illegal in Provo. I think the Trojans (also illegal in Provo?) pick up where Stanford left off and win going away, 48-17.
Russell: Man I'm glad you're in Chicago and I'm in Jersey, because I don't want to be anywhere near you when the lightning strikes. Haven't we tempted fate enough with the column name? I'll stand with you on that pick, however. USC has too much on both sides of the ball for the Cougars. You never feel good about laying four touchdowns on the road, but I'll cast my lot with USC in this one.
Vinny: The Hawkeyes averted a huge upset with a few defensive stops down the stretch against Iowa State last week. Kirk Ferentz is trying to notch his third straight ten-win season with his third different quarterback. The sooner an NFL team makes him an offer he can't refuse, the better for his fellow Big Ten coaches.
Russell: Agreed. There are successful college coaches who should stay in college (Nick Saban), and then there are those that should jump at the first NFL job to come their way (Ferentz and Cal's Jeff Tedford). You watch Iowa play and you think "these guys aren't that good." But at the end of the year, Ferentz has pushed them to double-digit wins. One question, though -- whatever happened to Hayden Fry's stand up tight ends? Couldn't Ferentz honor that tradition?
Vinny: I guess he eschewed that tradition along with Fry's losing ways the last few years. We don't know how good the Hawkeyes are but the Sun Devils may prove something of a test, at least offensively. ASU coach Dirk Koetter is on the hot seat, as he tries to avoid his third losing season in four years in Tempe. Senior QB Andrew Walter has looked good thus far, tossing 6 TDs with no picks. With home field advantage, I think the Sun Devils cover and get some payback for their 21-2 loss in Iowa City last year.
Russell: Both teams are full of unknowns, so I'm going with the one that's had some recent success. Iowa wins outright on the road.
Vinny: The Ducks have to be pretty depressed after the home loss to Indiana last week. Not a good time to be visiting Norman.
Russell: Has any team in America had more mood swings than the Oregon Ducks the last few years? This is the same team that scored a huge home upset of Michigan last year, then immediately starting giving up 50 points a game to everyone. Maybe it's the dye in those putrid uniforms. Maybe it's something in the $400-per-gallon helmet paint. Maybe the Autzen locker room -- with stalls that would make Barry Bonds jealous -- has made them soft. Oklahoma, on the other hand, put the woodshed to use against Houston last week and I expect nothing different this time around.
Vinny: Yep, I think the Sooners will have their way with the Ducks (also illegal in Provo). Oklahoma in a rout, 55-20.
Russell: The scoreboard operator will be busy. I think OU gets into the 60s this time out. Have no fear, take the Sooners and lay the points.
Vinny: I'm changing the name of my "Best Bet" after going 0-2 on it thus far. It will now be known as "The Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week," in honor of the purported NFL insider who never got a tip right and was sentenced to 21 months in the federal clink for fraud in 2002. My question is, why wasn't this clown arrested for fraud the instant he called himself an NFL insider? Anyway, I'm going with Nebraska as my lock.
Russell: Hmm, that is a really big lock. Vin, I think you're being too harsh on Fred. I miss him on NFL Gameday, strolling through that high-school field in his "Deep Throat" trenchcoat. All right, the best bets are hereby renamed. I'll attempt to honor big Fred's genius by taking Ohio State.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Ohio State (-2.5) at North Carolina State||North Carolina State||Ohio State|
|LSU (+1.5) at Auburn||Auburn||LSU|
|Florida (+3) at Tennessee||Florida||Tennessee|
|Nebraska (-4) at Pittsburgh||Nebraska||Nebraska|
|Maryland (+6.5) at West Virginia||West Virginia||Maryland|
|Indiana (+1.5) at Kentucky||Indiana||Kentucky|
|Notre Dame (-3.5) at Michigan State||Notre Dame||Michigan State|
|Southern California (-26.5) at BYU||Southern California||Southern California|
|Iowa (+1) at Arizona State||Arizona State||Iowa|
|Oregon (+28) at Oklahoma||Oklahoma||Oklahoma|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||4-7 (0-1)||10-10 (0-2)|
|Russell||3-8 (0-1)||7-13 (1-1)|
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