Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
30 Sep 2004
By Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
The latest edition of Seventh Day Adventure has analysis and picks for all the big college games this weekend. What's with Russell's strange affinity for Rutgers? Why the Neil Young references? Read on to find out. Also, use this article as the college open thead. Football Outsiders covers college ball, too. If you post to college message boards, please help spread the word!
Russell: Vin, are you sure you don't want to spend some time reviewing last week's picks and the standings before we jump into this week? I was 6-3-1 and took the overall lead, if you really must know.
Vinny: No comment.
Russell: How very political of you. Perhaps you would like to comment on Arkansas' chances against Florida, seeing as you underestimated the Hogs last week in their win over Alabama?
Vinny: I overestimated the Tide more than anything else -- they had a Milton Bradley-like meltdown on the road, committing silly penalties and turnovers. The Hogs did yield 271 rushing yards to Alabama, which has Ciatrick Faison (210 rushing yards last week vs. Kentucky) and the Gators salivating.
Russell: This is Arkansas' first road game of the season after four straight at home. That stretch probably helped the very inexperienced Razorbacks mature, but they're still plenty green when it comes to playing a road game in a place like The Swamp. Florida is rounding into form. I like the Gators at home by a couple touchdowns.
Vinny: This could really be a track meet, with both offenses averaging more than 450 yards per outing. But I think the Hogs' inexperience on offense (aside from Matt Jones) will show. I also like Florida at home.
Vinny: The Orangemen have to be low on self-esteem after getting crushed by their only two respectable opponents thus far (Virginia and Purdue). There are a couple of good backs in this one with Walter Reyes (Syracuse) and Brian Leonard (Rutgers), but you still couldn't pay me to watch this game. Tell me, Jersey Boy, why are we even talking about this one?
Russell: You caught me. Growing up, Rutgers and I shared the same exit on the New Jersey Turnpike (9). In Jersey, that's like family. Seriously, though, Rutgers getting less than a TD on the road -- that doesn't excite you? That probably hasn't happened since the Scarlet Knights took their 1-0 record on the road after beating Princeton in 1869. Rutgers is tough to figure. It opened the year with an upset of Michigan State that had everybody talking about the program for all of a week before it returned to form with a home loss to 1-AA team New Hampshire. A win over Kent State two weeks ago put the Knights at 2-1.
Vinny: Whatever. I'll take the Men of Schiano, if only because the Carrier Dome crowd isn't much of a factor these days as they mostly sit on their hands and whine about their mediocre team. Not that I would do anything different.
Russell: Nice pick, Peter King. Syracuse looks to me to just be a bad football team, while I still believe the Scarlet Knights are on the rise. They lost to New Hampshire because the players had never before had to handle success. Rutgers kept Syracuse from going bowling last year with a 24-7 win to close the season, so the Orange should be focused this time out. But Rutgers will keep it close in the dome and cover the spread.
Russell: Purdue has looked dominant in getting off to a 3-0 start while Notre Dame's recent play is starting to make everyone forget about the season opening clunker at BYU. I think the new-found respect for the Irish is reflected in the spread. Three points seems a little low to me.
Vinny: The Kyle Orton Express rolls into South Bend after taking care of business in Champaign last week, 38-30. Purdue boasts the nation's top scoring offense and the nation's 10th best scoring defense. But then, the Boilers haven't really played anybody. They also lost eight defensive starters from last year, and it showed against the Illini.
Russell: Orton's numbers are just downright stupid. He's completing a shade under 70% of his throws with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions and he's averaging 9.3 yards per pass attempt, an absurdly high number. This is a big step up in competition, but Orton's up to the task. Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn is improving, but he's still too inconsistent. The Irish will score some points against the Purdue D, but not enough. Purdue wins by at least a touchdown.
Vinny: Joe Tiller always seems to out-think himself in these contests against the Irish. In 2000, he had the nation's best signal-caller in Drew Brees, but seemed intent on proving to everyone that his team could run the ball. Purdue ran the ball 43 times but only let Brees sling 24 passes in a 23-21 loss to Gary Godsey, Nick Setta & Co. I think Tiller outfoxes himself again. Take the Irish and the points.
Vinny: Freshman tailback Danny Ware and junior linebacker Odell Thurman return to the Georgia lineup. Ware sat out the Bulldogs' victory over Marshall two weeks ago with a bruised lung, while Thurman was suspended for Georgia's first three games for violating team rules. The offense could use Ware's help after mustering only 13 points against the Thundering Herd.
Russell: It's put up or shut up time for both these teams. After this game, Georgia hosts Tennessee and LSU visits Florida, so we'll know in two weeks who the real SEC contenders are. Neither Georgia nor LSU has overly impressed me thus far. LSU finally managed to score some points last week, but it was against Mississippi State. They must get more production out of the QB position. JaMarcus Russell is under 50% completions right now and that's just not getting it done.
Vinny: Even without Chad Lavalais and Marquise Hill, the LSU defense hasn't had much of a drop off from last year. Nick Saban's rotating quarterbacks (Russell and Marcus Randall), however, haven't been very consistent. But what else do you expect when SABAN IS ROTATING THEM ???
Russell: Vin, do you have Nick Saban issues?
Vinny: I've got all kinds of issues, but especially with rotating quarterback systems. Despite its outstanding season, Georgia coach Mark Richt didn't do his team any favors rotating David Greene and D.J. Shockley a couple years back, but Shockley's injury last year let Greene take the controls for good. Once again, I'm picking against the dual QB system -- Georgia covers in this one.
Russell: My guess is that neither one of these teams is going 2-0 the next two weeks, but I'll agree with you and take Georgia at home this week.
Russell: Hey Alan G., this one's for you. Arizona State is off to a great start at 4-0 behind QB Andrew Walter, who right about now should be picking out the tricked-out Escalade he's going to buy with his NFL signing bonus in April. Oregon is always tough at Autzen Stadium, but I think the oddsmakers are giving the Ducks too much respect. The Sun Devils are starting to make believers out of me.
Vinny: Starting tailback Loren Wade has been suspended pending an investigation of possible NCAA infractions, so one of their backs named Hill will have to pick up the slack for the Sun Devils. Meanwhile, how loaded is the QB position in the Pac-10? Walter, Matt Leinart, Josh Swogger, Derek Anderson and Kellen Clemens are all NFL material. Oregon was a Jekyll-and-Hyde team last year, but this year it looks mostly like Hyde, the 48-10 romp over Idaho last week notwithstanding.
Russell: Vin you need to follow the bouncing Hill. Randy Hill ripped up his knee filling in for Wade last week and was replaced by Hakim Hill. And if you're scoring at home (or even if you're by yourself) Jordan Hill recovered a pair of fumbles. You're right about the Pac-10 QBs, though. Walter may be the most physically impressive of the lot, but he needs to improve his accuracy, starting this week against the Ducks. I'm going to violate my own rule about lines that look too good to be true and go with ASU. The Sun Devils win outright, making it three in a row over the Ducks.
Vinny: Agreed, take ASU and the points.
Vinny: Oregon State hasn't had much luck. After the heartbreaking opener against LSU, the Beavers got ambushed in Boise on the blue turf and then lost a tough one in Tempe last week. Tight end Joe Newton had the ball stripped on the goal line, just as he was about to give Oregon State a 14-7 lead. The Beavers then gave up 20 consecutive points to the Devils in a 27-14 loss.
Russell: On the other sideline you've got Cal, which has had three weeks off after a hurricane postponement and a bye week. For me, that poses three questions: 1) Are they rusty? 2) Did they spend most of those three weeks focusing on next week's game against USC rather than Oregon State? and 3) Have the players spent those three weeks reading about how they're the No. 10 team in America?
Vinny: Neil Young would say that Rust Never Sleeps, but in this case I think Jeff Tedford will have Cal focused on the task at hand. Tailback J.J. Arrington has another big day and forces the Beavers' Anderson and wideout extraordinaire Mike Hass to play catchup again. The Bears coast to Ragged Glory with a 34-21 win.
Russell: Neil Young also released an entire CD of nothing but guitar feedback. What's your point? Oregon State catches Cal looking ahead. I'm taking the Beavers and the points.
Russell: Missouri had two weeks off to prepare for the undefeated Buffs, who have shaken off the off-season scandals to get off to a 3-0 start. Colorado coach Gary Barnett is 5-0 against his alma mater, Mizzou. I'm shocked the line is so high given that Missouri lost at home to Troy State a few weeks back. Can you guess which way I'm leaning?
Vinny: Not really, since all those trips to the chiropractor have you leaning in different directions. The Buffs appear to have revived their running game with Bobby Purify averaging 5.5 yards per carry. But the CU pass defense is still putrid, yielding 346 yards per contest. Will Brad Smith be able to take advantage at home? I think so, but this line is definitely too high. Take CU and the points here.
Russell: You know, now that you mention it, my neck is a little sore. Maybe I should give Dr. Feelgood a call. Oh, and have I told you lately how great TiVo is? It'll change your life! I like Colorado to win outright.
Vinny: The Mountaineers finally exorcised their demons against Maryland two weeks ago, and this trip to Blacksburg might be the only real obstacle between West Virginia and an undefeated regular season. They're catching Virginia Tech at the right time. The Hokies gave up 10 sacks in a 17-16 loss at N.C. State last week.
Russell: West Virginia was rather underwhelming in that Maryland game and N.C. State is better than people think. How big a joke is the Big East when West Virginia is undefeated and ranked No. 6 in the nation, yet is still a two-point underdog at 2-2, unranked Virginia Tech? I can't believe I'm going to go against another "too good to be true" line, but I think the Hokies, playing at home, are the better team. Virginia Tech is the pick.
Vinny: Bryan Randall is completing only 52.5% of his passes and the Hokies haven't found anyone at tailback who can even try on Kevin Jones' old shoes. Even with a big play or two by VaTech's special teams, I like the Mountaineers to handle the Hokies, 28-20.
Russell: I'm going to attempt to follow the rule that says every college weekend needs a nickname and call this "BCS Bailout Saturday." The BCS folks will be thrilled that subpar West Virginia is out of the undefeated mix after Virginia Tech knocks off the Mountaineers.
Russell: This is another tough one to figure. K-State was flattened by Fresno State a few weeks back and fell out of the polls. Texas A&M looked to be in for a terrible year after getting rolled by Utah in the opener, but has rebounded nicely with wins over Wyoming and Clemson and now finds itself a five-point favorite over KSU.
Vinny: K-State's defense has ranked in the top-10 nationally the last seven seasons, but something is missing this year. It's certainly not senior cornerback Cedrick Williams, who will follow Terrance Newman as a top pick come April. Reggie McNeal is the leading passer and rusher for the Aggies, so the Cougar defense knows its task this week. I have absolutely no feel for this game. Russ, what do you think?
Russell: Perhaps A&M is starting to put it together in Dennis Franchione's second season, but I don't like them laying that many points against a good team. I'll take the Control Freak (a.k.a. K-State coach Bill Snyder) and the points.
Vinny: That's good enough for me. I'll take A&M to cover.
Russell: Typical. Just typical.
Russell: What a day in the SEC, with three great games topped off by this gem. The league's heavyweights -- Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Auburn -- are so evenly matched it's tough to figure out who will win each week. A two-point spread in this game means Auburn would probably be favored at home.
Vinny: Everyone's favorite confidential source Phil Fulmer thinks his offensive line is much improved from last year, and it's hard to argue with that. Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs are averaging 8.4 and 5.9 yards per carry, respectively. Fulmer continues to rotate Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge at QB, but both of these kids are better than either of LSU's signal-callers. Ainge really distinguished himself in the Vols' home win over Florida. It's tough to go against the Vols at home, eh Russ?
Russell: Very. Unlike the church gatherings at Michigan Stadium, the 100,000+ throngs at Neyland provide a definitive home-field advantage. I hate to go against Auburn after they've already made me look like an idiot for doubting them a couple of times this year, but I like how Tennessee is playing and the rotating QBs don't bother me as much as they do you. Schaeffer, who looks like a poor man's Chris Leak at this point in his career, provides a nice change of pace from Danny Ainge's nephew.
Vinny: Auburn boasts the nation's second-best scoring defense and has two pretty good backs of its own in Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. It's hard to always expect true freshmen quarterbacks to perform in the pressure of big games, but I think Ainge does it again at home. The Vols prevail, 20-17.
Russell: As much as I hate to agree with you on anything, I will. The home field provides the difference in a Tennessee win, say 23-16. Well, that wraps up the picks for this week, Vin, except for one thing. I know you wanted to finish up without discussing your "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week," but I'm not letting you get off that easy.
Vinny: I'll take Arizona State. I can see through that point spread like used Neutrogena.
Russell: Tough choice this week. I'm eliminating the road teams I like (Purdue, Colorado, Arizona State, Rutgers), and the teams that may or may not be any good (VaTech, Oregon State, A&M) which leaves me with the three SEC games. I'll go with Florida as my Edelstein lock on the theory that Arkansas is the weakest of the three opponents.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Arkansas (+7.5) at Florida||Florida||Florida|
|Rutgers (+6.5) at Syracuse||Rutgers||Rutgers|
|Purdue (-3) at Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Purdue|
|LSU (+3) at Georgia||Georgia||Georgia|
|Arizona State (+3) at Oregon||Arizona State||Arizona State|
|California (-6.5) at Oregon State||California||Oregon State|
|Colorado (+7) at Missouri||Colorado||Colorado|
|West Virginia (+2) at Virginia Tech||West Virginia||Virginia Tech|
|Kansas State (+5) at Texas A&M||Texas A&M||Kansas State|
|Auburn (+2) at Tennessee||Tennessee||Tennessee|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||3-6-1 (0-1)||18-21-1 (1-3)|
|Russell||6-3-1 (1-0)||19-20-1 (3-1)|
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