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 Dec 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Vinny: So Russ, how about that Alamo Bowl?
R: You're not going to lure me into a discussion of the officiating. Not ... gonna ... do it.
Vinny: It's never a good sign when the referee looks like a cross between Harry Dean Stanton and Lt. Harris from Police Academy.
R: Now that you mention it, I think that might have been Bobcat Goldthwait in the replay booth.
Vinny: As far as I'm concerned, it never happened. Let's move on.
Russell: So Virginia went 6-5 this year, yet placed four players on the All-ACC team and in recent weeks has seen both coordinators get head-coaching jobs. What gives?
Vinny: Al Groh has clearly graduated from gym teaching to extortion. Although, when you think about it, there are a lot of parallels: the wedgies, the rope burns, the atomic swirlies...
Russell: I don't know what kind of gym they taught back in Troy, Vin. Nashville is a second home for Minnesota, which is making its third appearance in this game in four seasons. As usual, the Gophers have an outstanding line and a great rushing attack.
Vinny: I'm not going to miss seeing Mark Setterstrom and Greg Eslinger pancake, chop block, and generally mow down defenders in the Big Ten. But the way Glen Mason coaches up the running game, he'll develop some kids to take their place soon enough.
Russell: Virginia was really underwhelming this season. One week they look like world beaters against Florida State, another they don't even bother to show up against Virginia Tech. Which Marques Hagans will the Gophers see in this game? I'll take the somewhat known quantity, Minnesota.
Vinny: Agreed. I can't put any faith in a team that lost 7-5 to North Carolina. Groh's government license to kill Gophers is revoked. Minnesota covers.
Russell: Memo to those who plan on TiVoing the Sun Bowl Friday afternoon: Make sure you pad that three-hour recording by at least 90 minutes, because this one is going to be a marathon. The Insight Bowl had over 1,000 yards of offense and 85 points scored, and this game could top both of those numbers.
Vinny: Even Verne Lundquist may run out of hyperbolic statements about the offense by halftime. The over/under for this one is 74.5.
Russell: The only thing I worry about with UCLA in this game is the motivation factor. This was a team that thought it was a national championship contender into November before dropping two of its final three to fall all the way to El Paso. But the Bruins are loaded offensively and neither Drew Olson nor Maurice Drew should have much trouble operating against the worst defense in college football.
Vinny: Of course, the '98 version of the Bruins was carved up by Edgerrin James and Najeh Davenport as Miami (Fla.) topped UCLA 49-45 in their last regular season game to blow an invite to the first-ever BCS title game. UCLA then went out and laid an egg against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Russell: Where is Cade McNown these days, anyway? The matchups for Northwestern's offense are favorable as well, with freshman stud running back Tyrell Sutton set to face the nation's worst rush defense. Northwestern will score plenty of points, but UCLA will score more. I'm taking the Bruins.
Vinny: Preach on, brother. UCLA is the pick.
Russell: Hmm, Steve Spurrier with a month to prepare for a bowl game? I'm giddy just thinking about it. Then again, I'm getting kind of college football slappy by this point.
Vinny: South Carolina has plenty of seniors in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but it hasn't been able to run the ball or stop the run either.
Russell: Spurrier has done a remarkable job getting this South Carolina team to 7-4, with wins over Tennessee and Florida along the way. A bowl win would provide a perfect capper to his first season in Columbia.
Vinny: This is the second bowl game in three seasons for the Tigers under Gary Pinkel, although it's only the school's fourth bowl appearance since 1983.
Russell: This is the final collegiate game for Missouri's Brad Smith, who will have plenty to say about the outcome. He's a terrific dual threat quarterback who should find plenty of room to operate against the South Carolina rush defense. South Carolina has done a lot with smoke and mirrors on offense this season, but it won't be enough here. I'll take Missouri.
Vinny: Maybe the Big 12 North isn't as bad as everyone thought. Nah. The Gamecocks cover.
Russell: The Peach Bowl kicks off a New Year's weekend bowl doubleheader at the Georgia Dome, which will also host the relocated Sugar Bowl on Monday. This may be the better game, although it's a shame that LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell is out with a shoulder injury he suffered in the SEC title game.
Vinny: Not nearly as important, but Miami receiver Ryan Moore is also out of this game due to an unspecified violation of team rules.
Russell: The injury to Russell means the Tigers will go with the very green Matt Flynn at quarterback -- not a great situation against the Miami defense, which has rattled many a veteran signal-caller. You have to think LSU will try and run the football with Justin Vincent to take some pressure off Flynn, but that won't be easy against Miami's front four.
Vinny: For his career, Flynn is 18-of-36 for 360 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception, although almost half of his production came in garbage time against North Texas this year. Not an ideal situation for him stepping in against one of the nation's best defenses.
Russell: We know LSU has questions at quarterback, but so does Miami. Kyle Wright has had his moments, both good and bad, this season, and he doesn't have an easy assignment against the LSU defense, either. I think LSU's front four will get to him and force some mistakes. The line's too high for my liking. I'll take the Tigers and the points.
Vinny: This might be a good time to bet the under (41). But I'm going with the 'Canes.
Russell: Welcome to the least-interesting game of the entire bowl season. Both teams are 6-5, and neither does much offensively. I won't be planning my New Year's Eve morning around this one.
Vinny: Seriously. I would almost rather watch Stu Scott host ESPN2's New Year's Eve party than watch this ballgame. Almost.
Russell: If that thing draws more than six viewers, I've officially given up on humanity. South Florida opened some eyes this season with its destruction of Louisville and looked like a contender for the Big East's BCS berth before stumbling towards the end of the season. Still, this is the program's first-ever bowl game and you have to think they'll be up for it. I'm not sure I can say the same thing about N.C. State.
Vinny: Sophomore Marcus Stone supplanted Jay Davis at quarterback mid-way through the season for the Wolfpack. He's struggled (completing less than half his passes) in Kyle Orton-like fashion as the defense has carried N.C. State to six wins.
Russell: I'm wary of laying points on a team with questionable motivation and a shaky offense. Look for Chuck Amato to be sporting goofy shades, sticking out his chest, and sweating on the sidelines as USF's superior athletes cover the spread.
Vinny: Agreed. I don't think the Wolfpack can score enough points here. And while USF's Andre Hall may not rack up many rushing yards, I like the Bulls to win this outright for some reason.
Russell: With very little fanfare, even by mid-major program standards, TCU put together a 10-1 season. While Fresno and others got a lot more hype, TCU is the highest-rated team from a non-BCS conference. It's a shame they couldn't find a better bowl matchup than 7-4 Iowa State, which lost to Kansas with a chance to clinch the Big XII North title in the final game of the regular season.
Vinny: Senior cornerback Quincy Butler (five interceptions) and TCU should be able to shut down the Cyclones offense, which is overly reliant on the pass.
Russell: I know the mid-majors like to measure themselves against BCS league schools, but sometimes I'd rather see them matched up against top teams from other mid-major conferences. Just look at last year's Liberty Bowl (Louisville-Boise State) for an example of how entertaining that can be.
Vinny: On the other hand, this will probably be less entertaining than BarbieFest 2005, which my niece organized the day after Christmas. And I can assure you, BarbieFest 2004 couldn't hold a candle to BarbieFest 2005.
Russell: Wow, my sympathies. Then again, Santa brought my five-year-old an accordion this year. Polka, anyone? I like Iowa State quarterback Bret Meyer, but TCU's Jeff Ballard is more efficient. He'll take advantage of the Cyclones' soft pass defense, and that will make the difference. TCU is my pick.
Vinny: No argument here. I like TCU here as well.
Russell: What a difference a year makes for the Liberty Bowl. Last season, it had one of the best matchups of the bowl season, with 10-1 Louisville against 10-1 Boise State. This year, it gets 8-4 Tulsa against a Fresno team that was America's darlings for about five minutes after going 15 rounds with USC. Too bad the Bulldogs lost their next two games as well to also finish 8-4.
Vinny: It really seems like the psyches of college football teams are more delicate than teams in almost any other sport.
Russell: Tulsa is one of the better stories in America that nobody knows about after winning the Conference-USA title. Keep an eye out for record-setting tight end Garrett Mills, the primary receiver in the Golden Hurricane's attack.
Vinny: Mills has 83 catches for nearly 1,200 receiving yards and nine touchdowns this season. That's almost half of Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith's passing yards.
Russell: Fresno State is too talented and Pat Hill is too good a coach to continue their late-season slide here. The line's a little high for my liking, but I believe Paul Pinegar will end his 17-year career with a big game. I'll lay the points with Fresno.
Vinny: Tulsa is my pick.
Russell: This might be one of the most interesting matchups of the entire bowl season, and it's probably the best Cotton Bowl pairing since the glory days of the Big 8. If you like contrasts, this is for you -- Texas Tech's explosive offense against Alabama's stout defense.
Vinny: Auburn is really the only team to have much offensive success against the Crimson Tide, putting up 28 points in the Iron Bowl. Even though it was a rivalry game, you have to imagine it was tough for the Alabama players to be totally up for it after having their undefeated season wiped away the week prior by a JaMarcus Russell laser in overtime. The Tide has had six weeks to get over the disappointment of both games and to focus on getting that 10th win.
Russell: As if often the case when you have strength against strength this game will probably be decided by the matchup on the other side: Texas Tech's so-so defense against Alabama's putrid offense.
Vinny: If Alabama's offensive line can come together -- despite some injuries -- I think tailback Kenneth Darby could have a big day.
Russell: For all the numbers and all the offensive production this year, who did Texas Tech beat? Their best result was probably their 23-21 squeaker over Oklahoma to close the regular season, and that was only on a sketchy TD call at the end. Mike Leach's scheme maximizes talent and it's outstanding against lesser competition, but it can be exposed against a powerful defense, which is what Alabama has. I'll roll with the Tide.
Vinny: I think Mike Shula's squad will be on a mission. I like Alabama as well.
Russell: This is a big game for Florida, where Urban Meyer needs a bowl win to officially stamp his program as headed in the right direction for next year.
Vinny: Don't overlook Iowa. Everyone knows about Drew Tate, but Iowa tailback Albert Young stayed healthy and had a big year -- he's the nation's 10th-ranked runner at 118 yards per game. He's not big, but he's got a lot of shake to him.
Russell: Florida quarterback Chris Leak has had a pretty good season, especially when you consider he's not really a great fit for Meyer's spread-option offense. With top recruit Tim Tebow scheduled to arrive in Gainesville next year, he needs a big performance against the Hawkeyes to get a jump start on keeping his starting job.
Vinny: Unless Meyer goes completely Mr. Hyde on the Florida offense, I really think Tebow has no shot to unseat Leak, who will be a senior next season.
Russell:As always seems to be the case, Iowa is greater than the sum of its parts. The Hawkeyes don't jump off the page at you with anything they do exceptionally well, but they are extremely well-coached and Kirk Ferentz will have them up for this game. I'm tempted to pick the Hawkeyes on the "line that looks too good to be true" rule, but I think Florida has too much talent. I'll take the Gators.
Vinny: Yep, Iowa was able to shock a more talented LSU team last year in its bowl game, but I think talent wins out in this one. Florida gets the cover.
Russell: How much more appealing might this game be if Brian Brohm hadn't blown out a knee at the end of the regular season? Instead, we get the Virginia Tech defense unleashed on former walk-on Hunter Cantwell.
Vinny: His name makes him sound like a news reader for NPR. Cantwell played well (16-25, 271 yards) in his first start, the Cardinals' season finale at Connecticut.
Russell: Statistically this could be a great matchup, with Louisville's seventh-ranked offense going against Virginia Tech's top-rated defense. But you have to wonder how effect the Cardinals can be with Cantwell, who represents a significant drop-off in talent from Brohm.
Vinny: But Bobby Petrino seems to be able to pluck people from the Chess Club (like they have one of those at Louisville) and have them prosper at quarterback for him. Except maybe when they have to play against a defense like Virginia Tech. I don't think Cantwell has seen anyone like Darryl Tapp or Jimmy Williams in practice.
Russell: I'm sure Louisville will try to rely on its run game with Michael Bush, but I don't know how much success they'll have. I have no idea what to expect out of Marcus Vick, who really went into a tailspin after his debacle against Miami. Now he returns to the site of Virginia Tech's head-scratching loss to Florida State in the ACC title game. I expect the result to be different this time. Virginia Tech is the pick.
Vinny: Yeah, the Hokies roll in this one.
Russell: Like a lot of people, I had my doubts about Auburn this year, but they won me over with their late-season wins over Georgia and Alabama and really look poised for big things next year.
Vinny: David Gibbs, former secondary coach for the Denver Broncos, has done an outstanding job picking up where Gene Chizik (now at Texas) left off as the Auburn defensive coordinator.
Russell: A lot of the credit for Auburn's improvement goes to quarterback Brandon Cox, a big-time recruit who really developed as the year went on. He'll get plenty of chances against Wisconsin's secondary, the weak link on the Wisconsin defense.
Vinny: The Badgers have been banged up all season, especially their defensive front. They were even playing left tackle Joe Thomas on the defensive line at times. The time off will help, but Auburn's offense started to get rolling late in the season.
Russell: This is Barry Alvarez's final game after a really remarkable run at Wisconsin. His players failed to deliver for him in the regular-season home finale against Iowa, but I think they'll play all-out here. Auburn is the better team, but Wisconsin will run it enough with Calhoun to keep the score down. I like the Badgers to cover the big number.
Vinny: Not me. Like most people, I think Auburn manhandles the Badgers (Fred Edelstein Lock).
Russell: People have asked me if I'm rooting for injuries in this game. Of course I'm not rooting for injuries. I'm hoping the blimp will crash into the field and wipe out both teams.
Vinny: Either that, or some sort of giant sandstorm would work for me.
Russell: I kid! I kid! I've had both these teams ranked highly all year, especially Notre Dame. I don't have a problem with the Irish getting the bid over Oregon -- and that was before the Holiday Bowl -- and I expect them to play well. Charlie Weis has done a tremendous job in building an explosive offense with the talent that Tyrone Willingham brought to South Bend, and by maximizing underutilized players like Jeff Samardizjia. Ohio State will be the toughest test for the Irish all season, however.
Vinny: Weis uses the running game just to keep defenses honest, but Irish tailback Darius Walker got rolling again late in the season. Mike Kudla and the Buckeyes' defensive front like to clog up the middle and allow their stellar linebacking corps to clean up the run. But all that stunting and slanting sometimes prevents Ohio State from generate much pass rush. We'll see if defensive coordinator Jim Heacock changes that up against the pass-happy Irish.
Russell: Ohio State has tremendous balance with Troy Smith's development at quarterback this season. Had he started the Texas game, Ohio State might have pulled that one out. Notre Dame will score some points, but not enough to make up for its own defensive problems. The line represents too much respect for the Irish. I like Ohio State, and I'm making this my Fred Edelstein lock.
Vinny: There's no doubting this is an intriguing matchup. The Irish secondary looks awfully vulnerable at times, so Smith has to be drooling just thinking about Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn running free back there. But with Weis having a month to prepare Brady Quinn and his passing game, I think the Irish will be in this to the end. Notre Dame at least gets the cover.
Russell: Hard-hitting Big East football -- with a BCS bid to the winner! -- managed to produce a fairly impressive 10-1 West Virginia squad, but most people still feel that Mountaineers are overmatched against SEC champion Georgia. Personally, I think the West Virginia fans might want to keep the spare couches and lighter fluid handy -- their team definitely has a shot.
Vinny: This is definitely the ugly duckling of the BCS games, but it's still better than the Utah-Pittsburgh matchup from last year.
Russell: I actually think West Virginia matches up fairly well with Georgia. Quarterback Pat White is very dangerous with his feet and has the ability to turn a broken-down play into a big gain.
Vinny: The defenses should feel at home in this one, since Georgia and West Virginia both use similar spread formations, although the Mountaineers rarely air it out.
Russell: I'm not sure the Mountaineers have an answer for D.J. Shockley, who was better this season than anyone had a right to expect. He looked great throwing the ball downfield against LSU in the SEC title game, but the key for Georgia in this game is the rushing attack. If they control the line of scrimmage, they should win easily. I think it'll happen. Georgia covers.
Vinny: Georgia is completely loaded at the skill positions, with Thomas Brown, Danny Ware, Leonard Pope and Mohammed Massaquoi. I don't think West Virignia will be able to keep up with all of Georgia's weapons. The 'Dawgs cover.
Russell: What better place than Miami for a couple of octogenarian coaches to hook up. JoePa and Papa Bowden can catch the early bird (pronounced "oily boyd") dinner special at 4:15 and still make it to the stadium in plenty of time for the 8 p.m. kickoff.
Vinny: You mean an 8 p.m. bed time? I'm assuming both teams are staying with Morty and Helen Seinfeld at Del Boca Vista, Phase Three.
Russell: No doubt, they're gonna be all over that shuffleboard court! A lot of people believe Florida State doesn't really deserve to be in the BCS. I disagree. If conferences want to have their made-for-TV championship games, as the ACC did for the first time this season, this is the risk they take. Personally, I think Florida State deserves to be here, and I expect them to play well.
Vinny: The 'Noles have suspended linebacker A.J. Nicholson, arguably their best defender, for his possible involvement in a sexual assault that is under investigation. That won't make it any easier for Florida State to slow down Michael Robinson.
Russell: Nicholson's loss hurts, but Florida State did an excellent job handling Marcus Vick in the ACC championship, a similar style quarterback to Robinson. I don't expect Robinson to find the running room to make big plays with his legs. He's going to have to throw to win this game.
Vinny: The Penn State offense hasn't been quite as dynamic since receiver Derrick Williams (fractured arm) went down for the year in the Michigan game. But Robinson has taken on more responsibility and handled it well in his senior season.
Russell: Penn State's defense could be a nightmare for Florida State's Drew Weatherford, but he's a gamer and he'll hang in long enough to make a few big plays. I expect this to be a low-scoring game, and that makes the line too high. I'll take the Seminoles.
Vinny: The 'Noles usually go into these bowl games against the Big Ten crowing about their speed advantage. I think they're in for a rude awakening this time. Penn State routs the 'Noles.
Russell: I've heard a lot of different opinions about this game, but the most common one seems to be that USC will blow Texas off the field. I definitely don't see that happening. Then again, I picked Oklahoma in last year's Orange Bowl.
Vinny: The defense has been targeted as the soft spot for the Trojans, and it's why most believe this team isn't equal to last year's juggernaut. Still, for as much pub as Carroll gets for his loosey-goosey style and recruiting prowess, he's a great defensive strategist. After USC topped Michigan in the Rose Bowl a few years ago, all the USC defenders noted how Michigan didn't do anything they hadn't seen on tape, while the Wolverine offensive linemen were astonished by all of the USC blitz packages they had never seen on tape before.
Russell: I actually think that Texas is the better overall team because of balance, but USC's greatness can't necessarily be measured by stats. This is a team that has been on the ropes more times than they care to count the last two seasons, yet they always managed to find a way to win. If Texas is going to pull off the upset, they need to get out to an early lead and then step on USC's throat.
Vinny: I think Carroll will have all the youngsters on defense primed for this game, but it's pretty tough to gameplan for somebody who can improvise like Vince Young. On the other side of the ball, I think Michael Huff and the Texas defense can do a decent job keeping Matt Leinart, Dwayne Jarrett and the USC air attack in check. But the 'Horns haven't faced anyone remotely like Reggie Bush yet this year.
Russell: Young is a matchup nightmare for anyone. I recall the debates on this site earlier this year whether or not he'd be an NFL quarterback or even a player. There's no question the pros will tweak his sidearm throwing motion, but he's going to play quarterback in the NFL. He's every bit the athlete that Michael Vick is, and he's really improved his passing this year. He's probably licking his chops at facing the green USC secondary.
Vinny: Bush and Young are the biggest X-factors in the college game today; they can blow holes through even the best gameplans.
Russell: This is the last hurrah for Leinart and Bush and I expect them to go out with a bang. I really would like the line to be a little lower because I think man-for-man Texas may even have the talent edge. But I can't pick against USC after watching what they've done in big games the last three years. The Trojans are my pick.
Vinny: I doubt the Trojans will have the plug pulled on their dynastic run, but I do think Texas will make this a game. The 'Horns cover.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Minnesota (-4) vs. Virginia, Music City Bowl||Minnesota||Minnesota|
|UCLA (-3) vs. Northwestern, Sun Bowl||UCLA||UCLA|
|South Carolina (-4) vs. Missouri, Independence Bowl||South Carolina||Missouri|
|#8 Miami (Fla.) (-7) vs. #12 LSU, Peach Bowl||Miami||LSU|
|North Carolina State (-4) vs. South Florida, Meineke Car Care Bowl||South Florida||South Florida|
|#14 TCU (-3.5) vs. Iowa State, Houston Bowl||TCU||TCU|
|Fresno State (-7) vs. Tulsa, Liberty Bowl||Tulsa||Fresno State|
|#15 Texas Tech (-3.5) vs. #13 Alabama, Cotton Bowl||Alabama||Alabama|
|#17 Florida (-1.5) vs. Iowa, Outback Bowl||Florida||Florida|
|#10 Virginia Tech (-7.5) vs. #19 Louisville, Gator Bowl||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech|
|#9 Auburn (-11) vs. #18 Wisconsin, Capital One Bowl||Auburn||Wisconsin|
|#4 Ohio State (-4.5) vs. #6 Notre Dame, Fiesta Bowl||Notre Dame||Ohio State|
|#7 Georgia (-7) vs. #11 West Virginia, Sugar Bowl||Georgia||Georgia|
|#3 Penn State (-8.5) vs. #22 Florida State, Orange Bowl||Penn State||Florida State|
|#1 USC (-8) vs. #2 Texas, Rose Bowl||Texas||USC|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||4-4-1 (0-0-1)||52-67-5 (5-9-1)|
|Russell||5-3-1 (0-0-1)||50-69-5 (9-5-1)|
179 comments, Last at 05 Jan 2006, 10:03am by James Stephenson