Just in case Sunday night did not make it clear, defense rules the NFL in 2016. The best teams in overall DVOA all combine top-five defenses with below-average offenses. The Eagles now lead the league in both defense and special teams and are back to No. 1 overall.
08 Sep 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: Well Vin, after besting you in the season-long competition last year, I decided to throw a 2-6 mark on the board last week just to keep things fair this season. You're welcome.
Vinny: Russ, I never liked you. But I'm still going to let you buy rounds in Ann Arbor this weekend.
Russell: Speaking of which ...
Russell: If I were a betting man (and based on my success rate since we started this column, I thank goodness every day that I'm not), I wouldn't touch this line. I'd rather stand between Charlie Weis and a Dairy Queen counter than lay a touchdown on Michigan against a quality opponent after the Wolverine defensive performance last week.
Vinny: Michigan was sticking with a "vanilla" defense last week (typical in an opener), but that's no excuse for the shoddy tackling and putrid pursuit angles. Meanwhile, the Irish certainly looked impressive on offense last week, scoring touchdowns on six of their first seven possessions against Pitt. I've never seen Brady Quinn look that confident -- he knew exactly where he was going with the ball on the last step of every drop. And the Irish offensive line dominated to the point where Darius Walker and Rashon Powers-Neal were often in the secondary before a defender laid a hand on them.
Russell: Vin, you know I'm a Lloyd Carr guy. He may not be the best coach in America, but about 98% of schools would take his results at Michigan any day. Still, why do I have the feeling that Weis will have some offensive schemes cooked up to befuddle our Wolverines this week?
Vinny: Are you saying that Thornton Mellon will outcoach the Michigan staff? The Wolverines have allowed opponents 400+ yards of offense in five straight games (going back to last season). I haven't seen anything this bad since Blues Brothers 2000. You would think Michigan defensive coordinator Jim Hermann would be on the hot seat by now. He better break out the "neopolitan" approach this weekend.
Russell: We might be looking at the most cardiac arrest-inducing Michigan season on record, as I expect the Wolverines are going to have to win a lot of track meets, maybe starting with this one. It'll be back and forth, but I see Chad Henne leading Michigan to a come from behind win in the end. Still, I can't lay the seven. Give me Notre Dame and the points. And yes, I hate myself for saying that.
Vinny: No argument here. This game will probably come down to the last possession. I really don't know who'll win, but the Irish will cover. By the way, there are some rumblings about a serious injury to Michigan TE Tim Massaquoi this week. Fort Schembechler keeps a tight lid on such things, which only fuels the speculation.
Russell: Here's why even games against designated stepping stones can be dangerous: Cal lost starting quarterback Nate Longshore to a broken leg in last week's win over Sacramento State. And the theory that Cal would be fine with backup Joseph Ayoob (who barely lost out on the starting job in fall camp) took a serious hit when Ayoob begain 0-for-10 in relief and was yanked by Jeff Tedford.
Vinny: At least Joseph can't tell if fans are chanting his last name or booing. His nickname should be "The Walrus"? Koo-koo-Ayoob!
Russell: I could be the Walrus. I'd still stink at picking college football games. Looks like Tedford is going to go with Ayoob against Washington, hoping that a week of practice with the first unit gives him some confidence. Luckily for Cal, Washington is coming off a 1-10 season and didn't exactly look renewed in a season-opening loss to Air Force. Nice effort by the Washington fans, by the way, leaving about two-thirds of the seats at Seattle's Qwest Field empty last week.
Vinny: I really don't know what happened to the Husky program. The Jim Lambright, Rick Neuheisel, and Keith Gilbertson Eras haven't been much fun. And the fan base has already lost faith in Willingham. Don James, where have you gone?
Russell: I think Don's still bitter that the Pac-10 slapped down his program just because somebody gave Billy Joe Hobert $50,000. I can't imagine there will be much of a home-field edge as Husky Stadium this week either. Washington was competitive against a good Air Force team, but I look for Cal to rebound this week. It's a good thing the line dropped from the opening number of 10, or I'd have been tempted to go with the first double-digit home dog (DDHD) of the season. But at -8.5, I'm riding with the Bears.
Vinny: Huskies QB Isaiah Washington looked decent last week, but he was one of the few bright spots. Washington hasn't won a game since beating San Jose State on October 9, 2004. Ouch. I'll give the points and take Cal as well. Bears RB Marshawn Lynch should continue his rise to stardom.
Russell: I have a feeling that Steve Spurrier is licking his chops at the chance to take on Georgia as a huge underdog. Spurrier absolutely owned Georgia when he coached Florida, which, granted, doesn't have a lot to do with this game, but I bet he's happy that UGA destroyed Boise last week while the Gamecocks struggled with Central Florida in the second half.
Vinny: Maybe Boise State stinks this year, but at first blush it appears that Georgia's defense hasn't skipped a beat. And they're doing it without David Pollack, Odell Thurman and Thomas Davis. Even defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder left for the NFL.
Russell: Spurrier has had a couple extra days to cook up an offensive gameplan for the 'Dawgs after opening on a Thursday night. He managed to make Blake Mitchell look like a poor man's Danny Wuerffel -- or at least Terry Dean ... can I get a Noah Brindise? -- in the opener. Plus, the sun will still be out in the first half, meaning Spurrier will definitely go with the visor. If he'd gone visor instead of baseball cap with the 'Skins, he might still be coaching in the NFL. Well, maybe not.
Vinny: South Carolina obviously can't afford a sloppy second half this week like it could against Central Florida. And it might be a good idea for the Gamecocks to improve upon their total of 32 rushing yards in that opener. Ugh. Big number here, but I still like Georgia.
Russell: D.J. Shockley put up some huge numbers against Boise, with five touchdowns, and the Georgia defense forced a complete meltdown by Boise QB Jared Zabransky, who was responsible for six turnovers. I think Georgia is coming into this game very high on itself, and that's a dangerous placed to be, at least from a handicapping perspective. I'll take South Carolina and the points.
Russell: You might wonder why we're picking this game instead of, say, Maryland-Clemson. We're adding a new feature this week, the "A Guy Named Gal" game, named in honor of the blogger who suggested the idea. The idea is to pick one game a week that's a little off the beaten path or maybe just has a really interesting line. Personally, I think Gal was just trying to get some love for his alma mater, Rutgers.
Vinny: This is Stanford's opener and the beginning of the Walt Harris Era. Trent Edwards reclaimed the Cardinal quarterback job after dueling with T.C. Ostrander in training camp. You would think someone of Harris' offensive credentials could improve Edwards' completion percentage (54% in 2004) and TD/INT ratio (9/11).
Russell: I actually watched the fourth quarter of Navy's season-opening loss to Maryland last week. Yes, I'm the type of college fan who plunks down the extra $12 a month on my DirecTV subscription to add CSTV and ESPNU just so I can watch games like that one. Navy lost on a late Maryland touchdown, but it was worth watching just to see them execute the wishbone with 265-pound linemen.
Vinny: I can't claim to have seen that one, even though I've become something of a bandwagon Navy fan after taking in the 2003 Army-Navy game in Philly. Still, I like Stanford to cover here.
Russell: Show me a road favorite on a 3,000-mile trip and I'm going to be tempted to take the underdog, no matter the matchup, even before considering that it's Stanford opener while the Middies played last week. I like Navy and QB Lamar Owens (122 yards rushing vs. Maryland) to keep this one close for about three quarters, but the Stanford talent advantage will win out in the end. Stanford will cover, but it won't be easy.
Russell: It's getting ugly in Lincoln after the Huskers struggled offensively with Division I-AA Maine in a 25-7 win last week. I think even Tommy Lee was booing. At this rate, Bill Callahan is about a half-season away from begging Al Davis for another job.
Vinny: One of the few bright spots for Wake in its 24-20 loss to Vanderbilt last week was RB Micah Andrews. The sophomore racked up 254 rushing yards on 34 carries. If they want to be bowl eligible, the Deacons need to win this week and next (East Carolina) before beginning a pretty tough ACC slate.
Russell: If I had even an ounce of faith in Nebraska, I'd lay the points without hesitation. The problem is, last week's Huskers looked about as awful on offense as the 2004 edition, with Zac Taylor starring in the role of Joe Dailey by spraying incompletions and interceptions all over the field. Taylor is a Wake Forest transfer who's going to be geared up for this game, but I'm not sure if that's a good thing.
Vinny: This could be an ugly game -- I would almost rather watch a Mad About You marathon. Still, I like Callahan's crew to eke out a win (and a cover) here.
Russell: There's only one thing about Nebraska that's Nebraska-like these days -- the Black Shirts appear to be back. This is going to be a low-scoring affair, and I think Wake Forest can keep it close enough to cover.
Vinny: Jay Cutler is considered one of the best senior QBs available in the 2006 NFL Draft. He's big, mobile, accurate, and has a good arm. What's not to like? Oh yeah, he plays for Vandy.
Russell: Vin, that's the "Big V" you're talking about. They're undefeated! Hey, it's more than Oklahoma can say.
Vinny: Arkansas feasted 49-17 on Division I-AA Missouri State last week. Hogs RBs Peyton Hillis and Felix Jones each went over the 100-yard mark while QB/Blues man Robert Johnson got his first start under his belt.
Russell: I'm not sure how anyone from Vandy could be rated that high, but then again, the 2002 Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers did have not one, not two, but three Vandy guys on the roster (Shelton Quarrles, Jamie Duncan, and Todd Yoder).
Vinny: This is a very winnable game for the 'Dores. I'll probably live to regret this, but I'll take Vandy and the points.
Russell: Vin, have you lost your mind? You do know you just took Vandy in a road SEC game, right? To channel Allen Iverson, I mean, we're talkin' 'bout Vandy. Not Tennessee. Vandy. I think the Bugles are getting to you. Either that or you've been spending too much time with our friend the good Dr. Browning. Give me Arkansas and make them my Fred Edelstein lock, too.
Russell: Vin, I know you're concerned that Senator Tressel says he has two starting QBs. Justin Zwick looked pretty decent against Miami (Ohio) last week, but I don't think Tressel or the Buckeye fans have forgotten just how much the offense struggled when he started last year. If things don't go well early, I expect to see plenty of Troy Smith under center.
Vinny: Smith is returning from a two-game suspension for accepting cash from a booster. He helped jumpstart a muddling Buckeye offense last year (with some help from Ted Ginn), but I wonder if he's the second coming of Maurice Clarett. I mean, as much as he's helped Ohio State win, he's summoned for sit-downs with NCAA investigators fairly often. But Sweater Vest Nation has regained its trust in Zwick after the Alamo Bowl and last week's opener.
Russell: Funny thing about this game. I think Texas might be the better team, and will probably end up having the better year, but I have a hard time imagining them winning in the atmosphere at Columbus. The 'shoe is likely to be jacked up to Michigan-on-steroids like levels for this one.
Vinny: Texas earns my early-season nomination for Biggest Fraud on the Public Since One-Hour Martinizing. Vince Young bailed out the 'Horns suspect defense and special teams in the Rose Bowl, but he won't be able to do it again in Columbus. Tressel's wide-open offense (what's gotten into him?) plus Ginn's returns will gash Texas for plenty of points. The Buckeyes will not only cover, but they will hammer Texas. This is my Freddy Edelstein Lock.
Russell: If you were going to create a defense to contain a guy like Vince Young, you'd probably end up with a unit that looks a lot like Ohio State's, with speed and tackling ability all over the back seven. Why doesn't Michigan have guys like that back there? But I digress. The crowd noise will be good for a turnover, and that'll be enough to make the difference. The Buckeyes win.
Russell: This was supposed to be LSU's second game, and second home game of the season. Instead, the Tigers and new coach Les Miles will open on the road in Tempe, although they'll serve as the home team. You have to wonder if getting out of Baton Rouge, with its constant reminders of the nearby New Orleans catastrophe, might be the best thing for LSU.
Vinny: LSU QB JaMarcus Russell was hosting a bunch of family members and friends displaced by Hurricane Katrina in his Baton Rouge apartment last week. Among those he was hosting was music legend Fats Domino! Very cool.
Russell: It's hard to believe that LSU's preparations haven't been affected by what they've seen on their campus the last 10 days or so. But I think they'll be focused, and very anxious to play. It won't be an easy task, but LSU's defense should be able to slow down Sam Keller, Derek Hagan and the boys more than Temple did a week ago.
Vinny: I think that's a safe assumption. But I don't know if safety LaRon Landry and the Tiger defense can shut down the ASU passing game without letting Devils freshman RB Keegan Herring run wild. I like the Devils to cover.
Russell: I still don't trust Russell, at least not until he gets that completion percentage well above 50. But even without injured Alley Broussard, LSU has too much talent to lose this game. Even with all the distractions, LSU covers.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|#20 Notre Dame (+7) at #3 Michigan||Notre Dame||Notre Dame|
|#16 California (-8.5) at Washington||California||California|
|South Carolina (+17) at #9 Georgia||Georgia||South Carolina|
|Stanford (-3) at Navy||Stanford||Stanford|
|Wake Forest (+7.5) at Nebraska||Nebraska||Wake Forest|
|Vanderbilt (+11) at Arkansas||Vanderbilt||Arkansas|
|#2 Texas (Pick 'em) at #4 Ohio State||Ohio State||Ohio State|
|#5 LSU (-7) at #15 Arizona State||Arizona State||LSU|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||4-4 (0-1)||4-4 (0-1)|
|Russell||2-6 (0-1)||2-6 (0-1)|
72 comments, Last at 13 Sep 2005, 10:58am by DaveW