What do you call a fifth-round rookie WR with real expectations? Tajae Sharpe, and there may not be another player like him in NFL history. Tennessee's poor history of developing wideouts has led to a rare opportunity that Sharpe can seize this season.
23 Dec 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Vinny: Russ, how did the MTA strike treat you?
Russell: Oh, just super. Everyone was just so friendly.
Vinny: I don't think too many people in the Tri-State Area have been humming the "It's the Most Wonderful Week of the Year" jingle from ESPN's bowl promos lately.
Russell: Sure they were. You just couldn't hear it over the cursing. But I'm looking forward to it as much as I'm looking forward to not having to share the sidewalks with an extra seven million pedestrians tomorrow.
Russell: And nothing says bowl season like a pair of 6-5 teams teeing it up before next-to-nobody in a town that no one in their right mind would visit in late December.
Vinny: I'm confused -- are we already moving on to the Motor City Bowl?
Russell: Is there nothing cheaper than a Detroit joke to kick things off? At least bowl appearances are a novelty for these teams. Combined, they've qualified for four bowl berths since 1995. So at least they should be excited to play in a game where the best item in the gift bag is probably a $10 gift certificate to Applebee's.
Vinny: Speaking of jingles, I think Houston has adopted that damn "Baby Back Ribs" jingle as their fight song. Great, now I've got that stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
Russell: I guess someone should try and do some actual analysis here. Reasons to watch include the Kansas' larger-than-life coach, Mark Mangino, a man prone to sideline outbursts and conspiracy theories. He also has his team playing stout defense (19th in the nation). The Jayhawks will be tested by Houston, which runs a pretty unique version of the spread option with quarterback Kevin Kolb, who runs all sorts of half rollout passes. With a narrow spread, I've got to go with the better defense. Kansas is my pick.
Vinny: Kansas quarterback Jason Swanson should get the start after leaving the Jayhawks' overtime win over Iowa State with a leg injury. Mangino has no problem with shuffling his quarterbacks when they struggle (which is often), so Bryan Luke (the hero in the victory over the Cyclones) will be on deck. The Kansas offensive line has come on in recent weeks. I like the Jayhawks as well.
Russell: Well at least we now know the answer to the question, would they still hold the Hawaii Bowl if Hawaii isn't bowl eligible? This is actually a fairly interesting matchup. Nevada opened some people's eyes by beating Fresno State the week after the Bulldogs nearly took down USC, while Central Florida is one of greatest turnaround stories in America after going 0-11 last season.
Vinny: Not only that, but the Central Florida trustees just approved a new stadium deal. The stadium, which will actually be on campus, is scheduled to be completed in time for a 2007 season. I've never heard of such a sudden change in fortunes.
Russell: UCF doesn't do any one thing particularly well, except take the ball away, which helped to cover up a lot of flaws for an offense that ranked 45th in the nation and a defense ranked 82nd. Nevada is a better all-around team, with a balanced offense that should be able to wear down the UCF defense. The Wolfpack have won seven of eight coming in, and I think they'll stay hot. Nevada wins this one going away.
Vinny: We'll see if Nevada can keep the momentum going with exams and all. It's gotta be hard to concentrate on football when you have a take-home final involving Pai Gow Poker. With seniors in the offensive backfield (tailback B.J. Mitchell and quarterback Jeff Rowe), I'm thinking the Wolfpack will take care of the football. Rowe showed a penchant for the pick only once this year, at Boise State. But the Smurf Turf can get to anybody. Cue the curse jingle (do we have one yet?) and give me Nevada.
Russell: This is annually one of the more pitiful bowl games, as the over-under on attendance is about 12,000. Then again, given the way the Lions have played this year, this could be the most entertaining game Ford Field sees all year (well, at least until Super Bowl XL).
Vinny: I wonder how many Lions fans will show up just so they have another national television forum for more "Fire Millen!" chants and signs. What else do they have to do in Detroit? (And I'm allowed to say that, since my family has lived there for 20 years.) Meanwhile, Akron sold out its allotment of tickets and will have a convoy of over 30 buses full of fans making the trek from eastern Ohio, which makes Detroit look like Las Vegas. (I lived in Cleveland for 11 years, so I can say that too -- man, what a depressing existence I've lived. Pass the Paxil.)
Russell: Akron pulled off a miracle in the MAC title game at Ford Field a few weeks ago to earn this bowl berth, as senior Domenik Hixon came off the bench to catch the winning touchdown pass in the final seconds. This is the Zips' first bowl berth as a member of Division I-A, and I think the game will mean a lot more to them than to Memphis, which limped through a disappointing season.
Vinny: The Zips are definitely greater than the sum of their parts. They didn't place anyone on the All-MAC first-team, which helps explain why J.D. Brookhart was named the conference's coach of the year.
Russell: Memphis still has senior tailback DeAngelo Williams, however, and he's probably enough to make the difference. Williams is one of the all-time great backs in college football, and he could crack 6,000 yards for his career with a big effort. I think he'll hit the 200-yard mark and the Tigers will win it by a touchdown.
Vinny: I guess this is where we part company. I'll take the Men of Faust, er Brookhart (Akron).
Russell: Talk about teams going in opposite directions. Pretty much everyone knows what happened to Colorado down the stretch -- three straight losses, the last two by a combined score of 100-6, which was enough to earn Gary Barnett a bus ticket out of town. Clemson, meanwhile, won its last three, routing ACC champion Florida State and knocking off a hot South Carolina team in the last two.
Vinny: From a distance, the Barnett Saga really was comical at times, just like the Neuheisel Era before him. Dan Hawkins should be able to keep the Buffs on the sports page and off the front page. Too bad he doesn't take over before January 1 (defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz is at the controls for the bowl game). Colorado could use his offensive wizardry for this game. The Buffs have failed to score more than 16 points in their last three outings.
Russell: I'm not sure you could make the line high enough for me to consider taking Colorado in this game. It's hard to imagine the Buffs are too excited to play in this one, and they're likely to be without starting QB Joel Klatt, who was knocked out of the Texas debacle with a concussion. He may have been the luckiest player on the team -- he's probably the only one who can legitimately claim not to remember the 70-3 drubbing.
Vinny: But he probably remembers the 30-3 rout at the hands of Nebraska in Boulder.
Russell: Clemson also has quarterback issues, as Charlie Whitehurst has an injured shoulder. He's likely to play, but I think the Tigers might be able to win this game with me under center. I'll take Clemson and make the Tigers my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Vinny: No argument here. The Tigers roll (yep, also my Fred Edelstein Lock).
Russell: Uh oh. We may have to join IPTAY just to make up for double-Edelsteining the Tigers.
Russell: Rutgers in a bowl game! I think I might be more excited for this one than for Michigan's appearance in the Alamo Bowl the following night. Will James Gandolfini be in attendance? If the governors of New Jersey and Arizona make one of those silly bets, what would they wager? Dioxin for burritos? There are so many questions, so few answers.
Vinny: Come on Russ, after all of your eloquent defenses of your own Garden State, are you falling back on those tired old stereotypes?
Russell: Yes. And I think the Detroit Chamber of Commerce is calling for you on line one. Keep an eye on Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard, a big lug of a back in the Mike Alstott mold, who's also a talented pass catcher. The Rutgers defensive line is also a handful, finishing second in the nation in sacks. The front four will need to get to the quarterback to slow down the Sun Devils' fourth-ranked offense.
Vinny: The Devils' Rudy Carpenter has filled in quite well since quarterback Sam Keller went down for the season in October with a thumb injury. But Arizona State will feel the effects from the shake-up in Boulder next season, as prized assistant Mark Helfrich will join Hawkins' staff as the offensive coordinator for Colorado.
Russell: This is a huge game for the Rutgers program. Greg Schiano has finally gotten the Knights to a bowl in his fifth season -- and earned a contract extension in the process -- but this year's accomplishments will be quickly forgotten if they get steamrolled by 30 by a middling Arizona State team. Schiano will have his squad ready to play. Rutgers may not win, but they'll cover the number.
Vinny: Agreed. The Rutgers defense will keep this close enough. I like the Scarlet Knights here.
Russell: This is one of the more interesting matchups of the early bowl season, with a strange line to boot. Boise opened as a three-point favorite, most likely because the Broncos are playing on their home field where they've won 33 straight. But all the money is on BC, swinging the line all the way to where the Eagles are a slight favorite. Perhaps bettors are reacting to the fact that Hawkins has accepted the Colorado job, even though he will coach the Broncos in this game.
Vinny: The Eagles are in their seventh straight bowl game and are shooting for their sixth straight bowl win. Unfortunately, they're usually in not-so-marquee bowl games like this one. Who'd have thunk this year was their best chance to sneak into the BCS with such a weak ACC?
Russell: When exactly did it become OK for coaches who had accepted other jobs to remain on and coach their old teams in the bowl game? I never recall anyone pulling that move until Mike Price stuck around to lead Wazzu in the Rose Bowl a few years ago before bolting for Alabama. We all know how that worked out. In any case, I doubt any of the Boise players will begrudge having Hawkins on the sidelines, and it certainly didn't hurt Utah with Urban Meyer in the Fiesta Bowl last year.
Vinny: Tom O'Brien finally handed the offensive reins over to sophomore quarterback Matt Ryan late in the season. The Eagles might have another win or two if O'Brien wasn't so partial to senior Quinton Porter. Ryan has the benefit of an experienced offensive line (led by seniors Jeremy Trueblood and Pat Ross) that allowed only 13 sacks this season.
Russell: Boston College has better talent, and Boise didn't have much to show for its three games against name opponents this year, going 0-3 against Georgia, Oregon State and Fresno State. The Broncs are tough on the Smurf Turf, but I think Boston College is the team to end the run. I'll lay the points with the Eagles.
Vinny: It's scaring me (and most Vegas bookmakers) how often we're agreeing here. But I like BC as well.
Russell: Finally, after eight years, we'll get to see Michigan and Nebraska settle the 1997 national championship debate once and for all! Perhaps Scott Frost can even come back and whine to reporters about why Nebraska deserves it and Bill Callahan can announce his retirement before the game to rack up the sympathy vote.
Vinny: The good thing is we're not bitter about this eight years later. Wait ... yes, we are. Speaking of Frost, he told HuskersIllustrated.com this week: "This thing has already been settled. It's already been done and the Sears Trophy is in Memorial Stadium. I know those Michigan people are just mad because they have a crappy little trophy and we have the one that counts." I never liked Frost, but I give him credit for the smack talk -- he still does it well, even if he's doing it while hocking Firebirds at the used car lot.
Russell: Ouch. Hey, I need something to get me fired up about this game. The last time Michigan fell to a bowl with this little cachet, Tim Biakabutuka was toting the mail for the Wolverines as they lost to Texas A&M in the 1995 Alamo Bowl. Michigan is a heavy favorite this time out, but you have to wonder any time the Maize and Blue are laying a big number.
Vinny: Michigan's defense has improved, but it still can't hold a late lead against good teams. And the Michigan pass rush, via the front four or with added blitzers, can look like a Keystone Cops routine in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, Nebraska's defensive front, led by Adam Carriker, was first in the nation in sacks. Still, aside from beating up on a Colorado team that phoned it in, the Huskers have been shaky away from Lincoln. Nebraska outside linebacker Bo Ruud is out after breaking his arm in practice last week. Callahan also suspended backup defensive end Wali Muhammad from the bowl game for violating team rules.
Russell: Nebraska actually comes into this game pretty hot, having crushed Colorado, 30-3, in its regular-season finale. Perhaps Callahan finally has the west coast offense working. Michigan still has injury questions, and without a fully healthy Mike Hart, I'm not sure they can win. The number's just too high. I'll have to take Nebraska (gulp).
Vinny: Even with a patchwork line, the Wolverines have been able to protect Chad Henne all season. And Henne seems to be regaining his old (freshman) form, even in the absence of a consistent running game. The Wolverines are ticked off about falling out of a New Year's Bowl, so much so that curmudgeonly Lloyd Carr is now calling for a 16-team playoff. With or without Hart, Michigan covers.
Russell: I always make sure to tune into this game at least for a few plays just to see both teams standing on the same side of the field at SBC Park in San Francisco. This makes for a particularly interesting shot of the field on long plays, as you can watch the reaction of both benches at the same time. Brings back memories of Packers games at County Stadium in Milwaukee.
Vinny: Utah is without its starting quarterback, Brian Johnson (knee), who led the Moutain West in total offense this season. Juco transfer Bret Ratliff made his debut in the Utes' 41-34 overtime win over BYU on November 19 and threw for four scores and ran for one more. Not so shabby.
Russell: This game feels like a blowout to me. Georgia Tech is a tough team to get a read on, but at their best the Yellow Jackets beat both Auburn and Miami on the road. Something tells me they're not going to be intimidated by a 6-5 Utah squad.
Vinny: This Georgia Tech team is fun to watch, especially when tailback P.J. Daniels is healthy -- they're easily the most entertaining team in the ACC, unless you enjoy watching Miami's Kyle Wright occasionally break into his Chris Rix imitation.
Russell: Reggie Ball is a scrappy, undersized passer in the Joe Hamilton mode. He'll find Calvin Johnson often against Utah's 65th-rated pass defense. The Yellow Jackets roll.
Vinny: Fair comparison, but I think Ball is a much better athlete than Hamilton ever was. Look for Utah's Eric Weddle, the Mountain West defensive player of the year, to be matched up against Johnson a fair amount. I like Tech in this one as well.
Russell: So 10-1 Oregon feels it got jobbed, being passed over by lower-rated Notre Dame for the Fiesta Bowl. Instead they find themselves in the Holiday Bowl opposite Oklahoma, which was written off by just about everyone after a 1-2 start.
Vinny: Oklahoma is getting healthy, including tailback Adrian Peterson, who should be at 100 percent for this tilt. With Chuck Long taking over the head job at San Diego State, Bob Stoops has promoted offensive line coach Kevin Wilson to play-calling duties.
Russell: Oregon coaches will no doubt be screening film of Cal's blowout loss to Texas Tech in last year's Holiday Bowl. That loss came after the Bears went through the Pac-10 with a 10-1 record only to get passed over for Texas come BCS bid time.
Vinny: Stoops has played plenty of freshmen and sophomores this season, and it will pay dividends next year. But will it pay off as early as next week?
Russell: On the surface, the spread is pretty low, given the disparity in records. But you do have to wonder about Oregon's motivation, as well as its offense without Kellen Clemens, although Brady Leaf and Dennis Dixon had no trouble leading the Ducks to 56 points against Oregon State in the regular-season finale. I don't think Belotti will let his team take this game as lightly as Cal did. The Oklahoma defense will present a tough challenge, but I like the Ducks to cover the spread.
Vinny: I'm expecting another collapse out of the disappointed Pac-10 representative in this one. Give me the Sooners.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Kansas (-3) vs. Houston, Fort Worth Bowl||Kansas||Kansas|
|Nevada (-2.5) vs. Central Florida, Hawaii Bowl||Nevada||Nevada|
|Memphis (-4.5) vs. Akron, Motor City Bowl||Akron||Memphis|
|Clemson (-9) vs. Colorado, Champs Sports Bowl||Clemson||Clemson|
|Arizona State (-10.5) vs. Rutgers, Insight Bowl||Rutgers||Rutgers|
|#21 Boston College (-1.5) vs. Boise State, MPC Computers Bowl||Boston College||Boston College|
|#20 Michigan (-11) vs. Nebraska, Alamo Bowl||Michigan||Nebraska|
|#24 Georgia Tech (-8.5) vs. Utah, Emerald Bowl||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech|
|#5 Oregon (-3) vs. #23 Oklahoma, Holiday Bowl||Oklahoma||Oregon|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||1-3 (0-0)||48-63-4 (5-9)|
|Russell||3-1 (0-0)||45-66-4 (9-5)|
49 comments, Last at 29 Dec 2005, 11:56pm by Rocco