After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?
14 Oct 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: Vin, our secret's out. One of our enterprising contributors on the discussion threads has discovered that going the other way when the two of us agree on a game has been a potentially lucrative position to take. Well, well, Tarrant, how do you know that we haven't been doing the same thing? Do any of you know for sure that I'm not watching these games on a new plasma screen, funded by a refusal to follow my own advice?
Vinny: Hell, I guess I don't even know that for sure. Although, the last time I saw you, you were wearing some fine new threads from Old Navy. Love your chamois Capri pants.
Russell: Why thank you. Meanwhile, I'm tempted to go Costanza this week -- that is, take my first instinct and do the opposite on every game. Things can't get a whole lot worse.
Vinny: These picks really have become like watching a car wreck in slow motion. That reminds me, I could really go for a box of Jujyfruitâ€¦
Russell: A little over two weeks ago, this looked like maybe the game of the year in the Big Ten. Now, not so much, with both teams coming off bitterly disappointing losses. Michigan State has had two weeks to stew over its overtime loss to Michigan, while Ohio State is fresh off its Saturday-night shocker at Penn State.
Vinny: The Spartans' braintrust decided that, in order to stay healthy, Drew Stanton shouldn't scramble quite as much this season. The plan worked well until Stanton made a string of throwing mistakes against a patient Michigan defense. Stanton will have to pull the ball down and improvise more against an aggressive Buckeyes defense this week. The bootlegs and moving pockets won't work as well. Javon Ringer, Jason Teague and Stanton himself must make the Buckeyes respect the run.
Russell: Agreed. Plus, there are a lot of other factors to consider in this one. Can Ohio State keep things together after a second narrow loss killed all national championship hopes? Can Michigan State prevent this season from falling apart like so many other promising ones after a big loss?
Vinny: Right about this time last year, Jim Tressell scrapped a very safe, very lethargic Buckeyes offense for a spread option attack that turned Ohio State into a steamroller. But Senator Sweatervest has gotten back to his Ward Cleaver ways, managing to run an offense that is so mind-numbingly predictable that it looks like Troy Smith is running out of the single wing. Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn can't hide their frustration at being ignored as they come off the field each series.
Russell: On the other side, Michigan State's offense vs. Ohio State's defense is strength against strength. I expect each side to win a few battles, but that matchup is basically a push. I think Ohio State will have more success against the Spartans defense than it did against Penn State. Smith should find some room to run, and maybe Ginn can break loose for a big play. It could be enough. I like the Buckeyes to cover at home.
Vinny: Remember, it was Ginn who won this game for the Buckeyes in East Lansing last year with some big plays. Still, I think Michigan State brings its "A" game, which would still be a "B-" at a real school (come on, you expect me to discuss Michigan State and Ohio State without at least one put-down?). The Spartans are the pick.
Russell: Strange line of the week here. Penn State is 6-0, ranked #8 in the country, and is coming off a win over Ohio State. Michigan is 3-3, unranked, and coming off an embarrassing loss to Minnesota that dropped the Wolverines' home record to 2-2 on the year. Yet Michigan is a field goal favorite at the Big House. Vin, what gives?
Vinny: Lee Corso's "so-called experts" in Las Vegas are betting the public hasn't bought into JoePa's turnaround story. And they may be right. The money has been coming in on Michigan, pushing the opener of 3 to 3.5 during the week.
Russell: I think the line also has something to do with what happened two weeks ago in East Lansing, when Michigan shocked undefeated Michigan State a week after losing to Wisconsin to drop to 2-2. The question is, can Michigan and Lloyd Carr summon the pride to play well against red-hot Penn State this week?
Vinny: This is definitely another "circle the wagons" game for Michigan. This is a season where everyone seems to be getting their punches in. Minnesota ended a 16-game losing streak against Michigan, while Wisconsin stopped a six-game skid. Now, the Nitts march into Ann Arbor with a chip on their shoulder about their own six-game slide against the Wolverines. The freshmen receivers get most of the headlines for PSU, but this is an incredibly experienced team, with seven seniors on offense and nine on defense. They haven't turned the ball over in two weeks.
Russell: The Wolverines' season is on the verge of running completely off the rails if they lose this game. Despite all the injuries in the secondary, I think Michigan can contain Michael Robinson and all those freshmen receivers. Can Michigan score enough to win? It'll be tough against that Penn State defense, but I think Michael Hart breaks off a long run or two and Steve Breaston will make a big play somewhere. I'm going to invoke the "line that looks too be good to true" rule here. Michigan wins a street fight, 17-13.
Vinny: Michigan has its share of Pennsylvania kids who have been looking forward to this game. They'll have to step up in a big way, especially Chad Henne, because I doubt Hart will see much daylight. Henne has been off in all of Michigan's losses. He'll have little time to throw with defensive ends Matt Rice and Tamba Hali giving chase. Factor in the injury-riddled offensive line and the Wolverines' outlook isn't good. Russ, you've noted how Michigan is the "ultimate cockroach" (refusing to die until all the life is stamped out), and I think this is another game that will go down to the wire. But given Michigan's tendency to settle for field goals, and the fact that its last two losses have been by three points, I have to go with Penn State plus the 3.5.
Russell: Much like the Michigan State-Ohio State game, this SEC matchup lost some of its luster after both teams dropped early conference games. LSU has to be kicking itself for the second-half collapse against a Tennessee team it should have buried, while Florida might have had its confidence shaken after being taken out behind the woodshed by Alabama.
Vinny: It's finally a normal week for LSU at home, after having the opener moved to Tempe and the Tennessee game moved to a Monday night. The Tigers have been mistake-prone this year, with eight lost fumbles and an average of 10.5 penalties for 88.5 yards per game. That's some ugly football. Not the kind that Nick Saban was known for. You can see how Les Miles has been under fire in his first season in Baton Rouge.
Russell: Suddenly, Urban Meyer has gone from genius to the designer of a gimmicky offense that can't gain the tough yards in the SEC. His pleading text messages to a stud high school QB ended up online, which can't make Chris Leak feel all that great. Florida recovered some of its wounded pride against Mississippi State last week, but the offense won't hit on all cylinders as long as Leak is ineffective running the ball on Meyer's beloved option plays.
Vinny: Vern Lundquist and Todd Blackledge should be on the call for CBS. While Blackledge has vastly improved over his middling studio analyst days at ABC, I think Lundquist should stick to golf or figure skating.
Russell: LSU went out a buried Vanderbilt without breaking a sweat last week. It looks like they've put the Tennessee debacle behind them. The line's a little higher than I'd like it, because I don't trust either Miles or JaMarcus Russell to protect a lead, but I'm going with the Tigers.
Vinny: LSU and Florida are both very good against the run, but vulnerable in pass defense . I expect this one to be like a tennis match, with a fair number of turnovers thrown in for good measure. I haven't figured out this Florida team yet, but I trust Leak to be more careful with the football than Russell. The Gators win this outright, and the heat on Miles goes up a couple notches.
Russell: The odds of my being able to stomach listening to the NBC broadcast of this game are lower than the odds of my going 8-0 in my picks this week. I'm purposely avoiding all coverage of this game until kickoff, and then I will watch it on mute on a second TV, all to lessen the opportunity for the Irish-loving NBC hype machine to destroy my will to live.
Vinny: The first time Pete Carroll brought USC into South Bend, he had the team do all the touristy stuff: visit the College Football Hall of Fame, check out the Grotto, etc. And they lost. Since then, he's taken a businesslike approach to road trips, and you can't argue with the results.
Russell: Even on mute, this has the makings of a potential classic. After three straight ugly blowout losses to the Trojans, the Irish figure to be more fired up -- and bettered prepared -- under Charlie Weis than in past years. Brady Quinn is operating the offense to precision. Jeff Samardja is a matchup nightmare that could give the USC secondary fits. And Touchdown Jesus is sure to make a ball or two bounce ND's way, right?
Vinny: You would think all the injuries to the Trojans defense haven't gone unnoticed by Weis and his staff. Both of these offenses have been unstoppable in recent weeks, although the Trojans have been relying on Reggie Bush and LenDale White more than Matt Leinart lately. For all his flashy speed and moves, Bush has shown he can grind out some tough yards when needed.
Russell: Let's count the factors here. Notre Dame is a double-digit home 'dog that's had an extra week to prepare. Weis is an expert schemer and a master motivator. USC has stumbled around for parts of its last three games before turning it on in the end. Yep, all signs point to a Notre Dame cover. That's why I'm going with USC (thanks George!)
Vinny: Rick Minter's Irish defense will try to knock Leinart around the way Arizona State did. Irish fans have to hope that Minter learned quite a bit from the track meet loss against Michigan State. This spread is just too big for me with Notre Dame at home. Give me the Irish and the points.
Russell: Don't look now, but I think Bobby Petrino's agent is probably fielding calls again. In the two weeks since their bizarre, planetary alignment-induced blowout loss to South Florida, the Cardinals have outscored Florida Atlantic and North Carolina by a combined 130-24. Granted, not exactly the toughest back-to-back stretch a team has ever faced, but still, 130 points? In two games?
Vinny: I really can't stand Petrino. He's almost as annoying as CNN's Anderson Cooper.
Russell: West Virginia's defense ranks ninth nationally, and only Virginia Tech managed more than 19 points against the Mountaineers. They should keep Louisville out of the 60s, especially at home.
Vinny: I gave West Virginia little credit last week, actually picking Rutgers to beat them, and the Mountaineers proved me wrong in the driving rain. Freshman Steve Slaton got his first start at tailback and rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown. He'll have to keep it up with Jason Gwaltney probably out of action with an MCL sprain.
Russell: I'm sure West Virginia will try to run the ball to keep Brian Brohm and friends on the sidelines. That should help keep the score reasonable, but without much passing offense out of QB Adam Bednarik, I'm not sure they can score enough to keep it close. I'll take Louisville.
Vinny: The Moutaineers defense has been solid this year, but they haven't played anything resembling an offense like Louisville's. I'm also going with the Cardinals on the road. Prove me wrong boys, prove me wrong.
Russell: This week's Regional Special features a showdown in ... what conference are these schools in again? Oh, right, if it's 2005, this must be a Conference-USA game.
Vinny: Is this game being played within the Flag Division? Tulsa has climbed back to the .500 mark after last week's 34-17 win against Southern Miss. Last year, the Golden Hurricane handled Rice 39-22 at home. Senior TE Garret Mills (595 yards receiving, 5 TDs) has been Tulsa's best offensive weapon.
Russell: Rice is a strange program. They play in a 70,000 seat stadium that once hosted the Super Bowl but probably hasn't been half-full in a decade. You might have heard of the coach -- former Air Force, Arkansas, and Clemson head man Ken Hatfield. And they're one of the last bastions of the triple-option offense. This hasn't been an easy year for Rice, which comes in 0-4 -- all road games thanks to Hurricane Rita.
Vinny: The Owls don't inspire much confidence in me, or probably even themselves at this point. I'll take the Golden Hurricane to win in a rout.
Russell: After allowing at least 41 points in each game, Rice replaced its defensive coordinator this week. It won't make a difference. Tulsa rolls (and covers).
Russell: I'm not sure I can recall a quieter team in the top five than this year's FSU squad. It seems like nobody's seen the Seminoles since their sloppy opening win over Miami. But Papa Bowden's club looks well-positioned to go undefeated in the regular season. The defense is ferocious, and QB Drew Weatherford has progressed nicely since he was seen stumbling around against the 'Canes.
Vinny: Florida State got a scare from Wake Forest last week. The Deamon Deacons only trailed 20-17 late in the 3rd quarter before finally succumbing 41-24. Still, the 'Noles defense yielded 247 rushing yards. As for the FSU offense, stellar OG Matt Meinrod's career came to an end when he suffered a broken fibula and dislocated his ankle in the 3rd quarter. On the bright side, true freshman WR Greg Carr (6-foot-6) is emerging as a big play threat.
Russell: As an added bonus, the 'Noles won't have to face Virginia knee-capper Bill Butler, suspended for the week after a disgusting cheap shot on Mathias Kiwanuka of Boston College last week. This is another of the many things that bug me about college football -- why does a school get to discipline its own for on-field infractions? Can't the NCAA step in and issue a multi-game ban? If you ask Virginia coach Al Groh, he won't even use the word "suspension." He just says that it's better that Butler not play this week. Well Al, I think it'd be better if you not coach wearing a sweatshirt stolen from the Flashdance set, but that's just me.
Vinny: The Virginia defense has surrendered over 70 points and 1,000 yards the last two weeks in losses to Maryland and Boston College. Yikes. So while this is the 10th Anniversary of FSU's first ACC loss (to Virginia in Charlottesville), I'm confident that this will be a woodshed beating by the 'Noles. Florida State crushes Virginia (Fred Edelstein Lock).
Russell: I really like the way Florida State has improved -- last week's early struggles aside -- over the course of the year. I can't see Virginia putting up much of a fight. Although I'm tempted to invoke another "too good to be true" rule, I can't do it. Florida State is also my Fred Edelstein lock this week.
Vinny: So there you have it: not only are we both picking Florida State, but the 'Noles are also the Lock for both us this week. I almost pity Bobby Bowden.
Russell: Attention to the tin-foil hat crowd: You know what that means, right? Go get the deed to your house and your kids' college funds and put it all on Virginia. If the Cavs win this game outright, we should ... you know what, I'm not even going to finish that sentence.
Vinny: Russ, it's another game in your favorite place: Provo.
Russell: Ah yes, good old Provo -- where an extra wife or two is not really a big deal, but good luck finding a Starbucks. Good thing for Colorodo State, their offense has been plenty caffeinated on its own lately.
Vinny: No doubt, the CSU offense has been rolling, behind quarterback Justin Holland, tailback Kyle Bell, and wideout David Anderson. Unlike Bradlee Van Pelt before him, Holland is a drop-back passer without much shake. He's only been sacked three times in five games.
Russell: Things are getting back to normal for BYU, where the Cougars lead the Mountain West Conference in passing offense, at 346.8 yards per game, and QB John Beck is coming off a 34-of-44 performance against New Mexico, in which he threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns. Colorado State doesn't exactly feature a pair of shut-down corners, so this could be an old-school, WAC-style shootout.
Vinny: I like Sonny Lubick and the Rams to take care of business on the road here. CSU covers.
Russell: I agree, Bell will keep Beck and Co. on the bench for large stretches. CSU wins by at least a touchdown.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|#16 Michigan State (+6.5) at #15 Ohio State||Michigan State||Ohio State|
|#8 Penn State (+3.5) at Michigan||Penn State||Michigan|
|#11 Florida (+6) at #10 LSU||Florida||LSU|
|#1 USC (-12) at #9 Notre Dame||Notre Dame||USC|
|#19 Louisville (-7) at West Virginia||Louisville||Louisville|
|Tulsa (-8) at Rice, 4:00 p.m. ET||Tulsa||Tulsa|
|#4 Florida State (-7) at Virginia||Florida State||Florida State|
|Colorado State (-2) at BYU||Colorado State||Colorado State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||3-5 (1-0)||19-28-1 (2-4)|
|Russell||3-5 (1-0)||15-32-1 (4-2)|
150 comments, Last at 25 Dec 2006, 4:54am by Sid