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.
11 Nov 2004
By Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Vinny: Memphis' offense has been prolific, but its defense has been putrid -- 31.9 points allowed per game (89th nationally). Russ, is there a defensive coordinator who gets more undue attention than Joe Lee Dunn?
Russell: What does the sheriff from Walking Tall have to do with this game? Oh, that's Joe Don Baker. My bad. Dunn is certainly in the spotlight after last week's crushing 56-49 loss to Louisville in one of those wacky weekday night games that the C-USA's of the world love. One thing is for certain when Memphis plays -- there will be fireworks. One team has scored at least 40 points in six of the Tigers' eight games this season.
Vinny: Southern Miss has a rough finishing stretch, at least by Conference-USA standards: Memphis, TCU, UAB and then a rescheduled home date with BCS No. 4 California. And the Golden Eagles are coming off an embarrassing 52-24 home loss to Cincinnati, exposing some defensive problems of their own. Injuries in the already thin defensive backfield and a lackluster pass rush have plagued Southern Miss of late. This should be a track meet, in which case I'll go with the better quarterback, Memphis' Danny Wimprine. I'll take Memphis and lay the points.
Russell: Wimprine was on fire against Lousiville, throwing for 361 yards and four scores. And don't forget about tailback DeAngelo Wililams, one of the nation's more underrated backs. Southern Miss QB Dustin Almond -- not to be confused with the guy that played Screetch -- will have to put up some numbers to keep the Eagles in the game. I'll take Memphis as well.
Russell: You think Big East officials are pulling for West Virginia to win this game? How embarrassing would it be to have a B.C. team that is bound for the ACC next season claim the conference's BCS berth?
Vinny: Too bad Louisville doesn't join the Big East until next year -- the Cardinals might have won the conference handily.
Russell: West Virginia is having a quiet 8-1 season. Of course, it's tough to make a lot of noise when your conference is a joke and you play one semi-tough non-conference game (at Virginia Tech) and get beat. There's one Mountaineer that has been making plenty of noise -- sophomore receiver Chris Henry. He's the brain surgeon/team sportsmanship leader who was kicked out of the Rutgers game for excessive personal fouls. After telling the media that he was "embarrassing himself and the program," West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez swung the disciplinary hammer and suspended Henry for the whole first half against Temple. I'm sure there won't be any more trouble there.
Vinny: At least Henry didn't ask for time off to promote his rap album. Rodriguez is concerned about his defense, and he should be after it yielded a combined 51 points and 854 yards to Rutgers and Temple.
Russell: Boston College has a couple of impressive wins this season, including on the road at Notre Dame, so the Eagles won't be intimidated by what's sure to be a hostile crowd in Morgantown. I like Paul Peterson and BC to keep it close enough to get the cover.
Vinny: It's looking like Tom O'Brien's squad is bound for Phoenix (either the Insight.com Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl). BC can definitely close, allowing only 30 second-half points this season and outscoring opponents 47-13 in the final quarter. The Eagles have never won a Big East game in Morgantown, but I think they get it done in their final chance. I'll take BC and the points.
Russell: The Badgers are two wins from the Rose Bowl, but it won't come easy, with road tests at Michigan State and Iowa to close out the season. Wisconsin looked unstoppable last Saturday, scoring on its first five possessions in a rout of Minnesota. Quarterback John Stocco has been steady for the Badgers as their offense has started to pick it up, averaging 30 points in the last five games.
Vinny: I doubted Stocco as a real threat earlier this season, but he's looking like another great young QB in the Big Ten, like Chad Henne, Drew Stanton and Drew Tate. In a very limited role (five plays) last week coming back from an injury, defensive terror Erasmus James pressured the quarterback three times despite being double and triple-teamed. Sounds like the Lombardi Award winner to me.
Russell: Coming off its brutal loss to Michigan, the Spartans looked like they were ready to pack it in against Ohio State last week and fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter. But John L. Smith's squad battled back to take a 19-17 lead before falling, 32-19. The Spartans will again be without Stanton, who is still nursing a shoulder injury suffered against Michigan. Damon Dowdell will again start for MSU.
Vinny: I don't think the Spartans have much left in the tank, except for whatever freshman receivers Terry Love and Irving Campbell were using to make their homemade bombs. You know your young players have lost their focus when they've decided to become serial arsonists. Just a general rule. I'm going with the Badgers to win big here.
Russell: Like you never made your own potato cannon. Wisconsin can smell the roses now, and they won't let down this week. Michigan State will play hard and keep it close for a half, but I see the Badgers pulling away late and winning by a few touchdowns. In fact, the Badgers were so good to me last week, I'm again going with them as my "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week."
Vinny: Earlier this season, ESPN's Lee Corso pegged this game as the one where Utah would stumble and blow its BCS hopes. But that was before the Utes outscored their last four opponents by an average of 30 points per game. Quarterback Alex Smith has at least earned an invite to the Heisman ceremony with his scintillating play (No. 1 nationally with a whopping 179.8 pass efficiency rating and 32 total touchdowns).
Russell: Rough week for Utah. The Utes hammered Colorado State, 63-31, and still dropped a critical spot -- to No. 7 -- in the BCS. All those Utah fans who made advanced reservations for Tempe and the Fiesta Bowl need to be checking into flights to Memphis right about now. Utah can beat Wyoming by a hundred points (and it might), and the Utes aren't going to regain the No. 6 spot in the BCS. If Texas and/or Michigan go 10-1, Utah's not getting a sniff of the BCS.
Vinny: Wyoming is undefeated at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, but the notches in their belt aren't all that impressive. Still, I think Utah is due for a minor letdown and the Cowboys hang around for a while. I'll take Wyoming and the points.
Russell: I think Urban Meyer's boys will take out their frustrations on the overmatched Cowboys. The spread will not be a problem for Utah in this one.
Russell: Just when the voices calling for the head of Notre Dame coach Ty Willingham were growing louder, Notre Dame pulled off a road upset of Tennessee last week, giving the Irish a pair of wins over top-10 teams this season (I can't for the life of me remember who the first one was against). I hate to break it to you Domers, but Wilingham isn't going anywhere for another few years at least. Notre Dame will not fire Willingham, just as it didn't fire Bob Davie or Gerry Faust -- they were allowed to fulfill their contracts.
Vinny: The Notre Dame defense and special teams have been responsible for their two biggest wins of the year: Michigan and Tennessee. Many of the Irish faithful feel Brady Quinn isn't the kind of quarterback who can win a game for you in the two-minue drill. Give him some time. He's only a sophomore. And I think he could use some more talented receivers.
Russell: That's it exactly. Notre Dame doesn't have a coaching problem, it has a talent problem. No coach is going to turn the Irish into perennial championship contenders without upgrading the recruiting. The Irish have talented players here and there, such as senior Justin Tuck, but they don't have the outstanding athletes at every position that top-10 schools do. Now Pittsburgh might have a coaching problem. Rumors are rampant that Walt Harris is on the way out, no matter what happens this season -- and those stories will gain added fuel now that Pitt alum Dave Wannstedt is unemployed.
Vinny: The Pitt running game has been anemic -- Raymond Kirkley leads all rushers with a paltry 3.7 yards per carry average. And that's not going to get any better against Kent Baer's stout run defense. Looks like it will all fall on Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko's shoulders.
Russell: A win in South Bend would be a big step up for a Pitt team that has been up-and-down this season. I don't think the Panthers have it in them. The spread's a little big for my liking, but I still have to go with Notre Dame.
Vinny: I think Notre Dame is due for a mini-letdown after the big win in Knoxville. But I don't think Pitt has enough offense to even make this close. I'll also lay the points and take the Irish.
Russell: The saddest thing I've read all week, other than Maurice Clarett's transcript, is Nebraska +30 at Oklahoma. No, that spread is not a typo. Oklahoma really is a four-touchdown choice. Remember when this was annually one of the games of the year in college football? It wasn't all that long ago.
Vinny: Ah yes, back when a college head coach would never dream of running for Congress. Back when you could witness target practice with assault weapons in Bud Wilkinson Hall. Those were the days.
Russell: Hey, Ohio State and Michigan State are trying to bring them back. Oklahoma has to be physically and emotionally exhausted after back-to-back difficult road wins over Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, both of which came down to the final play. The Sooners should have a far easier time of it this week, whether or not Adrian Peterson is able to play with a shoulder injury.
Vinny: Nebraska, Baylor, and the Big XII North winner (most likely Iowa State) are all that stands between Oklahoma and the Orange Bowl.
Russell: If there's any pride in the Nebraska locker room, you have to think the Huskers will give their best effort of the season. They won't win, of course, but maybe Joe Dailey can limit the turnovers to one or two and keep Nebraska in the game for a while. Oklahoma coasts to the win, but can't cover the huge number. I'm going to side with Tommy Lee in this one -- Nebraska covers.
Vinny: This is an awfully big number, but I think Bob Stoops will convince his team that it needs convincing wins in its remaining games against these creampuffs. Oklahoma covers.
Russell: Purdue is in a desperate competition with fellow Big Ten squad Minnesota to claim the title of "Biggest Tank Job in America." Remember when Purdue was undefeated, ranked No. 5, and Kyle Orton was the leading Heisman candidate? That was a month ago.
Vinny: I haven't seen anything like what's happening to Purdue. At least Minnesota is going with the full-on self-immolation act. Before last week (when they played without Orton), the Boilers have been in command of every loss until pulling a Van de Velde. Their four losses are by a combined 10 points. It's too painful to watch.
Russell: It's certainly been an interesting week in Columbus, where coach Jim Tressel has no doubt broken out the "us against them" following serious allegations of improper benefits and academic fraud leveled by former stud tailback Maurice Clarett. I just hope his players were able to get their basket-weaving projects done in time to make the roadie to West Lafayette.
Vinny: You have to wonder about Clarett's credibility, as Buckeye Athletic Director Andy Geiger has maintained. That being said, some former teammates are backing up some of Clarett's story.
Russell: I'm stunned Purdue is even favored in this game. It's still a struggle for Ohio State on offense, but freshman receiver/punt returned Ted Ginn has provided a huge spark -- he had three TDs against Michigan State last week. The Boilermaker Special is a train wreck, whether or not Orton plays with a hip injury this week. Ohio State wins outright.
Vinny: Ginn runs so fast with the football that it's like you're watching the old TecmoBowl video game. True to form, I think Purdue takes an early lead but can't hold it. Ginn and placekicker Mike Nugent give Ohio State a narrow victory.
Russell: How the mighty have fallen. Miami is discovering it's not so fun to take a green defense into battle against ACC teams that are gunning for the big, bad Hurricanes every week. Their defense has struggled mightily the last four weeks, including back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Clemson. How many calls do you think Luther Campbell, Michael Irvin, and Ray Lewis made to "Da U" this week?
Vinny: Is Luther Campbell still alive? I guess I lost that prop bet in Vegas. One reason for Miami's defensive struggles has been their beat-up secondary. Now corner Antrel Rolle is questionable for Saturday with the dreaded turf toe. Marques Hagans has to be licking his chops coming into this game.
Russell: Virginia failed in its biggest test of the season, getting smoked on the road by Florida State. But the Cavaliers were plenty impressive in last week's 16-0 blanking of Maryland. I have a hard time envisioning three straight losses for Miami, but my instincts tell me to pick Virginia. Of course, my instincts have also carried me to a .445 winning percentage this year (but 7-3 on Edelstein locks! I feel compelled to add).
Vinny: I'm going with the 'Canes and (gulp) Brock Berlin in this one. Berlin is still inaccurate but at least he isn't throwing picks of late. I think Miami has too much pride to lose again this week. The 'Canes are even my Fred Edelstein Lock. My apologies to Larry Coker.
Russell: That makes me feel a lot better about picking team Thomas Jefferson. I hope Al Groh breaks out a special sideline sweatshirt for this one. Virginia wins by a touchdown.
Vinny: Like Utah, Boise State has pummeled almost all of its opponents this season. And Broncos coach Dan Hawkins is almost as popular with Athletic Directors as Urban Meyer.
Russell: There's a reason why Boise's not getting the same respect as Utah -- and it goes beyond ridiculous publicity stunts like playing a game at 9 am local time. The reason is its porous defense -- even though the Broncos shut down a potent Hawaii attack in a 69-3 romp two weeks ago.
Vinny: You want to talk porous defense? San Jose State ranks 116th nationally in scoring defense. (By the way, there are 117 teams in Division I-A football). Boise State has the No. 1 scoring offense in the country, putting up over 47 points per game. As if matters could get any worse, the Spartans' head coach is named Fitz. That's enough for me, even if this game is played off the blue turf. Boise State covers the big number.
Russell: The Smurf turf has been Kryptonite for Boise opponents this season, but the Broncos have struggled in their only two road outings. They'll win this one easily enough, but BSU won't cover the huge line.
Russell: This is the game of the day. Auburn has had a week off to gear up for the Bulldogs. Then again, so has Georgia, considering it played hapless Kentucky last week (final score: 62-17).
Vinny: If you ask me, Auburn is the best team in the country. Senior quarterback Jason Campbell has had a great season (and may also be deserving of an invite to the Downtown Athletic Club) and everyone knows about the Auburn rushing attack of Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. Meanwhile, the Tiger defense has allowed only one team (Arkansas) to post more than 14 points (No.2 nationally in scoring defense).
Russell: I'd put Auburn No. 2 behind USC, but you may be right -- hard to believe as that is. Auburn fans are all up in a lather about the BCS, but if the Tigers finish up with wins over Georgia and then Tennessee, they have a good chance to overtake Oklahoma for No. 2. The team can't get caught looking ahead, though.
Vinny: With Danny Ware out with a bad knee, another true freshman (Thomas Brown) will get his first start at tailback for Georgia. Brown has been impressive the last few weeks after a rash of injuries in the backfield gave him an opportunity. And quarterback David Greene has missed some practice this week with a stomach virus. I don't think either has much success against Travis Williams, Junior Rosegreen and the Tiger defense. I like Auburn to hold serve and demolish the Bulldogs.
Russell: I just think Auburn has too many horses on offense for David Pollack and Co. to contain. I like the Tigers by a touchdown. War Eagle! (Always wanted to say that).
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Southern Miss (+6) at Memphis||Memphis||Memphis|
|Boston College (+7) at West Virginia||Boston College||Boston College|
|Wisconsin (-8) at Michigan State||Wisconsin||Wisconsin|
|Utah (-22.5) at Wyoming||Wyoming||Utah|
|Pittsburgh (+11) at Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Notre Dame|
|Nebraska (+30) at Oklahoma||Oklahoma||Nebraska|
|Ohio State (+4) at Purdue||Ohio State||Ohio State|
|Miami (+3.5) at Virginia||Miami||Virginia|
|Boise State (-33) at San Jose State||Boise State||San Jose State|
|Georgia (+4) at Auburn||Auburn||Auburn|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||5-5 (0-1)||42-55-3 (3-7)|
|Russell||5-5 (1-0)||43-54-3 (7-3)|