Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
01 Dec 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: No time for pleasantries as our audience is no doubt awaiting our MAC title game pick. Let's get right to it.
Russell: No jokes from me this year about playing championship games in Detroit ... with a return trip to Detroit for the winner. Heck, even the NFL is bringing the Super Bowl to good ol' Day-twa this year. Besides, this game is almost guaranteed to be more entertaining than the performance the Lions put on at Ford Field on Thanksgiving day.
Vinny: I think even an episode of HBO's "Arliss" is more entertaining than the Lions were last week.
Russell: This is a true championship game in the sense that the winner gets a bowl bid (the Motor City, back at Ford Field) and the loser's year ends. Akron (6-5) played a cupcake schedule and beat just two teams that ended the year with winning records, but one of those was over NIU, a 48-42 overtime win back in September. Northern Illinois trailed by 21 points in that game before rallying to send it to overtime.
Vinny: Having seen the Huskies in person this year (they played Michigan in the season opener for both teams), I can attest to the ability of tailback Garret Wolfe. The little guy -- he's listed at 5-foot-7 and that's generous -- has great vision and seems to be at top speed within a couple strides of getting the ball. There are some very good backs in the Big Ten, but I think Wolfe could hang with them.
Russell: NIU has better talent, including Wolfe, but the Huskies couldn't stop Akron quarterback Luke Getsy, who threw for 406 yards in the first meeting. NIU has payback on its mind. I think they'll get it in the form of a win, but not a cover. I'll take Akron and the points.
Vinny: After missing three games with a sprained knee, Wolfe has run for over 450 yards in the Huskies' last two wins, including a big win over their "El Guapo," the Toledo Rockets. I like NIU but I agree -- this line is way too high in what figures to be another barnburner. I'll take the Zips also.
Russell: Central Florida, under noted career planner George O'Leary, is one of the best turnaround stories in America this season. The Knights, who went 0-11 last year -- won the C-USA East division with a 7-1 mark (8-3 overall), earning O'Leary some national coach of the year consideration.
Vinny: I'm going to resist the opportunity for another resume joke here.
Russell: UCF gets the Golden Hurricane on its home field, which has to be an advantage, especially given that the Knights are such a young team (only 10 seniors on scholarship).
Vinny: UCF quarterback Steven "Miss" Moffet has relied equally on receivers Brandon Marshall (56 receptions, 876 yards, 8 TDs) and Mike Walker (64 receptions, 855 yards, 9 TDs) this year.
Russell: Tulsa was the surprise champ of the C-USA West division after UTEP dropped its last two games. The Golden Hurricane is also a great comeback story after finishing 3-8 last year. Look for Tulsa to force some turnovers on defense (30 takeaways this season) and get the ball to standout tight end Garrett Mills on offense. They keep it close, but I like UCF at home.
Vinny: This is a coin flip, but give me the Golden Hurricane (I'm not sure if I just ordered a drink on Bourbon Street or something moderately expensive in a Bangkok brothel).
Russell: Uh, no comment.
Russell: This scenario has to look (unpleasantly) familiar to the Longhorns and their fans. In 2001, Texas played Colorado in the Big XII title game. Thanks to some upsets, a win would put the Longhorns in the national title game at the Rose Bowl. If this game were being played at Texas Stadium in Dallas instead of Reliant in Houston, Mack Brown might have the night sweats.
Vinny: I still can't get over the giant egg the Buffs laid at home last week against Nebraska. And the way the CU students reacted, they won't get over it either. Just embarassing for everybody in Boulder. Gary Barnett analogizes the Buffs backing in to the conference title game to the guy who finishes last in his med school class -- according to Barnett, if you can still call that guy "Doctor," you can call CU the Big XII North champs. Except I don't call those guys "Doctor" -- I call them my former college housemates.
Russell: Well, Brown and the UT fans might be nervous, but I don't think the players are, not with Colorado coming in off back-to-back losses to close the regular season. Texas certainly didn't look sharp against Texas A&M last Friday, but I think the 'Horns will be focused and ready to play. This program has been waiting four years to get this close to another national-title shot, and they won't waste the opportunity.
Vinny: It's funny how Brown may be erasing his legacy as a John Cooper type and may soon be accorded the kind of stature that Bobby Stoops has reached. He's not there yet, but the demons are slowly falling by the wayside.
Russell: I'm sure Barnett will have that 2001 tape cued up, but Texas doesn't have human turnover machine Chris Simms at quarterback this time around (just kidding, Chris ... go Bucs!). Vince Young will polish up the Heisman resume. I hate laying the huge points, but I could see this one ending up 56-3. Texas is the pick.
Vinny: Rodrique Wright & Co. should shut down the run again, as they did in their 42-17 trouncing of Colorado back in October. The 'Horns roll.
Vinny: Russ, the Commander in Chief's trophy is up for grabs -- literally.
Russell: Newsflash -- they found it. Thank goodness.
Vinny: Aaron Polanco has finally graduated, so this is Navy quarterback Lamar Owens' first appearance in the big game. Of course, when you're talking about Annapolis and West Point, these kids don't face pressure on the playing field compared to what they deal with off it.
Russell: No argument from me. That's one of the things that makes this game so special.
Vinny: Army switched to a 4-3 defense this year and it seems to have worked. The Cadets are hoping to finish the year on a five-game winning streak -- the Army seniors had won only four games total coming into this season. I think they'll do it. Army wins outright for its first victory in the series since 2001.
Russell: I hate to put the hex on Army by picking them as well, but I'd really like to see the Cadets take this one. The series is so close over the years and it's been tough to see Army get dominated in recent seasons. But I believe Bobby Ross can pull it off, despite the Vinny-Russell curse. Go Army. Beat Navy.
Russell: Funny how there's five conference championship games on the schedule this weekend, but USC-UCLA might be the best matchup. These teams average a combined 88.5 points per game, so this will probably be a 13-10 squeaker.
Vinny: I'm pretty sure that won't be the case. But I can't remember the last time two teams had this much time to prepare for a rivalry game. Maybe the Florida-Florida State matchup for the national title in the 1997 Sugar Bowl.
Russell: USC is vulnerable on defense -- Fresno State was the latest team to make that point, by scoring 42 on the Trojans two weeks ago -- but UCLA is worse. This should be a day where all the stars, quarterbacks Drew Olson and Matt Leinart and running backs Reggie Bush and Maurice Drew, can pad their stats.
Vinny: Drew sprained his knee against Stanford a few weeks ago but claims he's completely pain-free now. And Karl Dorell is toying with the idea of using Drew to return kickoffs for the Bruins. Meanwhile, Trojans back LenDale White hurt his left shoulder in practice over the weekend. It's a rivalry game, so you know he'll give it a go, but I would be surprised to see White play much. Maybe Snoop still has some eligibility.
Russell: UCLA will get some points early, but USC has answered every challenge this year. Fresno put a scare into the Trojans, but I don't think USC will have to sweat this one quite as much. Still, the line is too high for my blood, not in a rivalry game where you know UCLA has the ability to score. USC wins, but UCLA gets the cover.
Vinny: I think UCLA's smallish defensive front will get pancaked most of the day. Bruins linebacker Spencer Havner will feel like he's all alone out there, but he's probably used to that. I like the Trojans here.
Russell: Seems like a long time ago that LSU was last discussed in the national-title picture. That talk pretty much ended after they collapsed against Tennessee in the second half of a Monday-nighter in September. Yet the Tigers have a chance to go 11-1 and if Texas or USC gets upset, they could leapfrog Penn State into the Rose Bowl.
Vinny: Seems like all the ridicule directed at Les Miles since the Tennessee game has also subsided though. And as much as he'd like a do-over against the Vols, he's done pretty well. I'm looking forward to watching two of the better punt returners in the college game: Georgia's Thomas Flowers and LSU's Skyler Green. And I'm surprised Green hasn't been more involved as a deep threat in LSU's offense; he's averaging less than nine yards per catch.
Russell: The difference between these two teams is close games. LSU has five wins by four points or less this season, while Georgia's two losses -- to Florida and Auburn -- came by a total of four points.
Vinny: LSU should come with the same defensive approach they had against Alabama. Georgia clearly has more playmakers (and a better offensive line) than the Tide, but they couldn't run the ball (only 68 yards) against a good Georgia Tech defense last week. Now the Bulldogs face an even better LSU defense. D.J. Shockley will be seeing blitzers (including safety LaRon Landry) all day, so the emerging Mohamed Massaquoi should be singled-up quite a bit against the LSU corners.
Russell: He's not always pretty, but I really like the way ginormous LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell has played this season. When the Tigers have really needed him, he's come up with some huge throws -- against Arizona State and Alabama, for instance. The defenses are pretty much a wash in this one, but I like LSU's grit in a close game. I'll lay the 1.5 on the Tigers.
Vinny: Russ, you had me at "ginormous." LSU covers (my Fred Edelstein Lock).
Russell: It's a shame that South Florida froze up in the snow at UConn last week, preventing this from being a winner-take-all game for the Big East's BCS bid. Nobody's more disappointed than the anti-BCS set, who would love to see a zero-pedigree program like USF picking up a big bowl appearance check.
Vinny: South Florida coach Jim Leavitt just received a contract extension to 2012 -- isn't that a Rush album? Leavitt is a former Kansas State assistant, so the university wanted to lock him up and avoid any speculation that he was headed to Manhattan (the one in Kansas).
Russell: West Virginia may have things sewn up, but the Mountaineers still have plenty to prove. They want to hammer the Bulls, finish 10-1, and prove they're deserving of their BCS spot. Quarterback Pat White is coming off a monster game against Pitt, in which he ran for 220 yards, a record for a Big East quarterback.
Vinny: South Florida is undefeated at home, but the only really impressive win was a 45-14 shellacking of Louisville. Still, I think the Bulls will make this a game. South Florida covers.
Russell: South Florida has had a good year in its first season in the BCS, and is likely headed to its first-ever bowl win or lose. The Bulls have plenty of athletes and plenty of speed, including tailback Andre Hall, but I think they'll be a bit flat after the disappointment of last week. I like West Virginia, and I'll make this my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Russell: Raise your hand if you're fired up for this one. Anyone? Bueller?
Vinny: (arms folded)
Russell: Let's see. Florida State has never lost four games in a row under Bobby Bowden. Neither Frank Beamer (0-6) nor Virginia Tech (0-13) has ever beaten Bowden. That favors the Seminoles, right? Uh, not so much. FSU has been downright awful during the losing streak, mostly because its defense has fallen apart. More importantly, the 'Noles appear to be sleepwalking through games as if they've accepted their fate.
Vinny: This has "rout" written all over it. The 'Noles have again shuffled their offensive line, this time because guard Cornelius Lewis is suspended for the first half after getting involved in a fourth quarter fracas against Florida. I never knew you could be suspended for half a football game, but that's the NCAA rule for fighting.
Russell: VaTech has bounced back nicely since the debacle against Miami for its only loss, routing Virginia and North Carolina. VaTech can win this game -- and cover the spread -- without a big performance from Marcus Vick, as long as he takes care of the ball. The line below two touchdowns is a sign of respect for Bowden, but his team's mailing it in. I like the Hokies.
Vinny: Ditto. Hokies defensive end Darryl Tapp should get to know Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee fairly well. VaTech coasts to an easy victory.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Akron (+12.5) vs. Northern Illinois||Akron||Akron|
|Tulsa (+1) at Central Florida||Tulsa||Central Florida|
|Colorado (+28) vs. #2 Texas||Texas||Texas|
|Army (+5.5) vs. Navy||Army||Army|
|#12 UCLA (+21.5) at #1 USC||USC||UCLA|
|#4 LSU (-1.5) vs. #13 Georgia||LSU||LSU|
|#11 West Virginia (-9) at South Florida||South Florida||West Virginia|
|#5 Virginia Tech (-13.5) vs. Florida State||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week"
record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||3-5 (0-1)||43-56-4 (5-8)|
|Russell||4-4 (1-0)||39-60-4 (8-5)|
113 comments, Last at 10 Dec 2005, 5:28pm by Trogdor