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.
14 Oct 2004
Vinny: Well Russ, if last week was "Showdown Saturday," I don't think I survived with my brutal picks. I haven't seen anything that bad since Karate Kid III. Hopefully, nobody's listening to me if they're actually betting on these games. I know I'm not.
Russell: Does going 3-7 (and beating you in the process) qualify me to make fun of your picks? Actually, my wife had so much fun at our expense after we posted a combined 5-15 effort last week, I challenged her to do better. Therefore, you'll see a "Susan Says" pick for each game. I'm not sure where this is leading, but it can't be anywhere good. Vin, do you realize that these performances are jeopardizing my chances of joining your Las Vegas trip in November? The stakes have never been higher.
Vinny: Alright, let's try to turn this around. Miami has the nation's best scoring defense, only allowing 6.5 points per game. Senior cornerback/playmaker Antrel Rolle has been all over the field. Meanwhile, after pasting several patsies, Louisville may be the best threat to bust the BCS party. If Bobby Petrino's lads can upset the 'Canes, it's relatively smooth sailing to an undefeated season. Thanks to their schedule, the Cardinals boast the nation's second best scoring offense (43.25 points per game) and third best scoring defense (7.00).
Russell: Petrino needs to keep winning. It's not like he has the Auburn job to fall back on this year. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if an Alabama booster's private jet is spotted in the Louisville airport later this fall. The Cardinals have been very impressive this season behind the quarterback play of Stefan LeFors. Louisville upset Florida State at home last season and if this game was at Papa John's Stadium (yes, that's actually the name), I might pick the Cardinals. But at the Orange Bowl, I've got to stick with Miami and lay the 9.5, even if 'Canes quarterback Brock Berlin is looking the second coming of Gino Torretta (NFL version) these days.
Vinny: LeFors, who always wears a white skimmer, is completing 75% of his passes. But Louisville has been doing most of its damage on the ground (246 yards per game) with Lionel Gates, Eric Shelton and Michael Bush in the backfield. I think the 'Canes deal Louisville its first loss, but Berlin helps keep it close. I'm taking the Cardinals and the points.
Susan says: Louisville
Russell: Ohio State has suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in the Jim Tressell era, falling to Northwestern and Wisconsin the last two weeks. Mr. Sweater Vest shouldn't worry however, his troops are very green and if the Ohio State faithful are known for one thing, it's their relentless optimism. The Buckeyes will have to find some offense if they hope to pull off the road upset in Iowa City this week.
Vinny: The Buckeye defense has struggled, yielding nearly 800 yards in the last two weeks. The inexperience among the front four has shown. True freshman Ted Ginn's 65-yard punt return was the lone bright spot last week. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes found the cure to their ills last week in Michigan State, coasting to a 38-16 victory.
Russell: The line of 2. 5 is a nod to Ohio State's reputation more than its performance this season. I like Iowa to win by a touchdown and cover the number.
Vinny: This Iowa team just doesn't seem as physical as the last few -- they're 109th in the nation in rushing offense. Still, they have won 15 in a row at home in Kinnick Stadium. That's good enough for me (judging by my record, that's obviously a low standard): Iowa 30-13.
Susan says: Ohio State
Vinny: This is a match-up of the nation's only two independent I-A football programs. Notre Dame rallied to beat Stanford at home last week. Meanwhile, after a narrow 24-21 escape against Air Force, the Midshipmen have a good chance to run the table if they can handle the Irish in Annapolis. Navy's Aaron Polanco is averaging 12 yards per pass attempt, so he has been able to make teams pay for overplaying the triple-option.
Russell: A Navy win over the Irish could be more of a sign of the coming of Biblical Armageddon than even the Sawx winning the World Series. Notre Dame has won 40 straight in the series, although the Middies have had some very close calls in recent seasons.
Vinny: I think Mike Goolsby and the Irish defense is up for this task and can force a few miscues by Navy. Notre Dame prevails, 24-14.
Russell: Irish quarterback Brady Quinn is coming off a concussion. Maybe the gold helmets worn by both teams will confuse him. I'm not calling a Navy win outright, but I will take the Midshipmen and the points.
Susan says: Notre Dame
Russell: This is a matchup of two of the nation's most underappreciated teams. Texas A&M was pretty much written off after getting pasted by Utah in its opener, but has won four straight since, including victories over Kansas State and Clemson. Oklahoma State is overshadowed by OU in its home state, but is undefeated and lying in wait for the Sooners in two weeks.
Vinny: Rashaun Woods departed for the NFL, but his younger brothers Donovan and D'Juan are a big part of the Oklahoma State offense. Donovan, a true freshman, is the starting quarterback and D'Juan is the Cowboys' leading receiver. Russ, you have to give it to Les Miles, he knows how to recruit a family.
Russell: Don't forget about Oklahoma State running back Vernand Morency, who heads the nation's fourth-best rushing attack. Vin, are the Woods brothers the second coming of the Blades brothers?
Vinny: Let's hope not. The Aggies' Reggie McNeal, another dual threat at quarterback, hasn't thrown an interception in any of his 124 attempts this year. In fact, A&M and Oklahoma State are the top two teams in the country in turnover margin.
Russell: I like the job Franchione is doing at A&M. The Big 12 heavyweights, a group Oklahoma State wants to join, need to be very careful against the Aggies.
Vinny: Franchione has A&M on the rise, but they're not ready for a trip to Stillwater. I think Oklahoma State covers and wins easily here, but then I also think Bravo struck TV gold with Siegfried & Roy: The Miracle.
Russell: Vin, were you riding around Vegas with Cole Ford the other night? It's hard for me to agree with a guy that just expressed his preference for a Bravo Siegfried & Roy special, but I have no choice. The Cowboys will devour Franchione's Aggies like Montecor. OK State covers.
Susan says: Oklahoma State
Vinny: Even with one returning starter on offense (senior quarterback/brute Matt Jones), the Hogs have put up some points. But if you ask me, Auburn's 34-10 rout in Knoxville has been the most impressive performance by any team this season. Despite working with his fourth offensive coordinator in as many years, Jason Campbell is having a banner senior season. On defense, strong safety Junior Rosegreen leads the nation with five interceptions.
Russell: Agreed, the Auburn domination in Knoxville was an eye-opener. Auburn doesn't have a real weakness. They're balanced on offense behind Campbell and star tailbacks Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams and as you have pointed out, are loaded with playmakers like Rosegreen on defense. Still, much like Georgia last week, I'm a little wary of how the Tigers handle the success. Now that they're standing alone atop the SEC heap, they could be negatively affected by all the positive press.
Vinny: Arkansas is in for a rude awakening from the Auburn defense on Saturday. I'm giving the points and taking Auburn. I'm even making this my "Fred Edelstein Lock," which is bad news for Auburn.
Russell: Arkansas impressed me with the way it rallied from a huge deficit to put a scare into Florida a couple of weeks ago. The Hogs will catch Auburn a little flat this week and do the same thing. Give me Arkansas and the points.
Susan says: Arkansas ("Fred Edelstein Lock")
Russell: Arizona State may be catching the Trojans at the wrong time. USC is sure to be angry after spending the week defending its No. 1 ranking. Plenty of pundits declared Cal to be the best team in the Pac 10 following USC's narrow victory over the Bears last week. They may have had a point -- Cal outgained the Trojans by a 2-to-1 margin, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers exposed a weak spot in the USC defense: its secondary.
Vinny: How can anyone annoint Cal as the best team in the conference if they lost to USC? That's a head-scratcher. Anyway, ASU quarterback Andrew Walter hopes to pick up where Rodgers left off in the House That Al Davis Fled To, And Later Abandoned. USC just doesn't have that killer instinct on either side of the ball this season. I think the Trojans get taken to the limit again this week. ASU has had 2 weeks to prepare, and I'm assuming they weren't using the time to help Bob Schieffer draft questions for last night's debate in Tempe. They know they can play with USC, and I think so too. I'm taking the Devils and the points.
Russell: I believe this is a statement game for the Trojans and their QB, Matt Leinart and I expect them to answer the bell with their best effort of the season. USC takes the Sun Devils behind the woodshed in a 38-13 thrashing.
Susan says: USC
Russell: Oklahoma narrowed the gap on No. 1 USC in both polls following last week's shutout of then-No. 5 Texas. Saturday, OU rolls into Manhattan, where Kansas State has completely fallen apart this season. Bill Snyder's troops have suffered losses to Fresno State, Kansas, and Texas A&M to fall to 2-3. Not the best time to invite the Sooners to town.
Vinny: You recall it was K-State that humiliated Oklahoma 35-7 in the Big 12 title game last year. But Snyder, everyone's favorite control freak, has seen his defense surrender nearly 40 points per game in three losses. Like Ohio State, it might finally be time for K-State to admit it's a rebuilding (not a reloading) year. Despite impressive stats, tailback Darren Sproles has seen his Heisman campaign fizzle amid his team's woes.
Russell: I can't see Oklahoma having much trouble in this one. Adrian Peterson will continue to carry the load on offense, taking the pressure off Jason White who, though healthy, is not the player he was in winning the Heisman Trophy last season. The Sooners roll, 44-10.
Vinny: This is the Sooners' first real road trip, and the spread is awfully large in this one. But I think payback is on Bob Stoops' mind. Remember, he coached under Snyder and Steve Spurrier, so he knows what it's like to hang big numbers on the board just for spite. The Sooners exact revenge, 48-14.
Susan says: Kansas State
Russell: Virginia is another of those teams -- like Cal, Purdue and Auburn -- that has quietly moved into the upper echelon of the Top 25. Al Groh's troops feature the elusive Marques Hagens at quarterback and maybe the nation's best tight end, Heath Miller. Florida State, meanwhile has turned over the offense to Wyatt Sexton, who has capably replaced the injured (and enigmatic) Chris Rix.
Vinny: Hagans has been surprisingly accurate this season in his first year as a full-time starter. But look at who the Cavs have faced thus far: Temple, North Carolina, Akron, Syracuse, and Clemson. The 'Noles will be a big step up on Saturday. Plus, Sexton seems to understand what Bobby Bowden wants from him: just don't lose the game for us. My prediction: Al Groh sweats through his clothes (again) and FSU covers.
Russell: How many times have you seen an upstart ACC team come to Tallahassee with hopes of an upset and leave with its tail between its legs. The numbers are astounding in Florida State's favor. They're 48-1 all time in ACC home games and Virginia has lost 22 straight road games against Top 10 teams. Florida State plays three or four of these games every single year, while games of this magnitude come along about once a decade for Virginia. That's a huge factor. I'll lay the points and roll with the Seminoles. Besides, Virginia's fight song is sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne." How is anybody supposed to get fired up by that?
Susan says: Florida State
Russell: Ahh, Saturday night in the Paloose. I've got $10 that says it'll be cold and rainy and Barry Tompkins will be at the microphone on FSN. I love these Pac-10 night games -- always a good way to wrap up your viewing day. Stanford is at 3-2 after dropping close games to USC and Notre Dame sandwiched around a win over hapless Washington. The Cardinal face a Wazzu squad that was torched by Oregon's Kellen Clemens in a huge comeback win by the Ducks last Saturday.
Vinny: If Stanford collapsed in South Bend, then Wazzu folded faster than Superman on laundry day in that 41-38 home loss to the Ducks -- allowing 27 fourth quarter points and 646 total yards? Yikes.
Russell: Look for Washington State linebacker Will Derting, #51. This relatively unheralded player will be all over the field for the Cougars, who will contain Stanford's limited offense. I like Washington State at home.
Vinny: The Cardinal ground game was shut down by the Irish -- J. R. Lemon had 41 yards on 13 carries. Wazzu quarterback Josh Swogger is scuffling, having completed only 33 of his last 75 attempts. He's better than that. I think Bill Doba's crew bounces back with a home win. The Cougars prevail by a couple touchdowns.
Susan says: Washington State
Russell: I just can't get excited about any game involving Wisconsin, which has to be the dullest team in the nation. I know it's been effective for Barry Alvarez over the years -- three Rose Bowl titles speak to that -- but it's cover-your-eyes ugly football. Of course, I also watch the Buccaneers every Sunday, and they've been playing that brand of football for about a decade. That said, this is still a huge game in the Big Ten race. Purdue looks like it might be the class of the conference, but the Boilers were shaky in last week's win over Penn State. Here come the Badgers, led by tailback Anthony Davis and a highly ranked defense that may or may not have played anyone of consequence yet (the jury is still very much out on Ohio State). It's the first of back-to-back huge games for Purdue, as Michigan comes calling next week. Kyle Orton and the Boilers will stay unbeaten and narrowly cover the spread.
Vinny: Badger defensive end Erasmus James has already knocked out a couple quarterbacks this year. Combined with Anttaj Hawthorne, Wisconsin's veteran front four should get to Orton early and often. And if Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco can deal with the pressure of playing in the Columbus Snakepit, I think he can deal with West Lafayette. Except for all the Joe Tiller look-alikes. That would rattle anyone. I'm going with the Badgers here.
Susan says: Purdue
Russell: Well Vin, the gauntlet has been thrown down. We're picking for pride and testosterone this week. I feel confident, especially in Florida State, my "Fred Edelstein Lock."
Vinny: Russ, good luck. We're all counting on you.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says||Susan says|
|#17 Louisville (+9.5) at #3 Miami (FL)||Louisville||Miami||Louisville|
|#23 Ohio State (+2.5) at Iowa||Iowa||Iowa||Ohio State|
|Notre Dame (-7) at Navy||Notre Dame||Navy||Notre Dame|
|Texas A&M (+7) at #15 Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State|
|Arkansas (+13) at #4 Auburn||Auburn||Arkansas||Arkansas|
|#19 Arizona State (+11) at #1 USC||Arizona State||USC||USC|
|#2 Oklahoma (-20.5) at Kansas State||Oklahoma||Oklahoma||Kansas State|
|#6 Virginia (+3) at #7 Florida State||Florida State||Florida State||Florida State|
|Stanford (+1) at Washington State||Washington State||Washington State||Washington State|
|#12 Wisconsin (+6.5) at #5 Purdue||Wisconsin||Purdue||Purdue|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||2-8 (0-1)||25-34-1 (2-4)|
|Russell||3-7 (0-1)||27-32-1 (4-2)|