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. Does anyone in the NFC South have any pass rushers? Well, the Bucs might, but they still need more players to catch the ball.
11 Nov 2005
Russell: Well Vin, I was coming off my first winning week of the season last week when I arrived in Las Vegas. I started the day 6-0 Saturday before dropping the last two. Want to guess how much money I made?
Vinny: A couple hundred bucks?
Russell: Oh, I'm sorry. We have some nice parting gifts for you. No, that total would be $0, which tells you just how much confidence I have in my own ability. Sports wagers did nothing for me out there -- I lost both my college bets and went 1-2 on the NFL. I did manage to leave with a tidy little profit, however, courtesy of the blackjack tables.
Vinny: Plus, isn't the cost of your Vegas trip a tax write-off?
Russell: Damn you, Vin. If one of our six regular readers is an IRS auditor, I'm holding you personally responsible. But yes, I did manage to file a dateline LAS VEGAS piece for Monday's New York Sun, so I'm saving my receipts.
Vinny: You're my hero ... unless you go to jail, in which case, you're setting a terrible example for all the kids out there.
Russell: This is more than a tune-up for next week's trip to the Big House for Ohio State, which must be careful to avoid looking past the pesky Wildcats.
Vinny: I left Northwestern for dead against Iowa late in the fourth quarter last week, but then so did Iowa. The Wildcats rallied for two touchdowns in the last three minutes, as the Hawkeyes failed to hold a late lead once again.
Russell: The Troy Smith-led Ohio State offense is peaking at the right time. The Buckeyes have scored 40 points in three straight games, something they haven't done in 10 years, and now get to face the porous Northwestern defense. Smith could be in for a big day.
Vinny: Anyone who plays against the Wildcats defense is usually in for a big day. Northwestern has yielded over 900 yards in its last two games. Sometimes it seems like linebacker Tim McGarigle is by himself out there.
Russell: Randy Walker has done one of his best coaching jobs with this Northwestern team. The Wildcats don't overwhelm you with any aspect of their play, but their spread-option is tricky to defend and they live to play in close games. The defense may be awful, but I think the offense might be able to put a few points up on the board, even at the 'shoe. This is a tough call, but I'll take the points.
Vinny: I think Northwestern will be dispatched of fairly quickly in the Snakepit. The Buckeyes cover easily. Sweatervest Nation should be able to turn its attention to the north by halftime.
Russell: You just know Steve Spurrier is licking his chops this week, waiting for his shot at Florida, on his home field. Spurrier is back in his element in college, and somehow has South Carolina bowl eligible. He's already had one signature win this year, at Tennessee, and you know this is the one he really wants to add to the ledger.
Vinny: The Vols are having their worst year in recent memory, but that doesn't matter to South Carolina fans. Part of the credit for the Gamecocks' successful season should go to Lou Holtz. Yes, he recruited almost all of these players, who probably underperformed under his watch. But more importantly, he lined up the ol' Ball Coach as his replacement.
Russell: I know that our buddy GatorGriff is sweating this one out. He even tried to run the Jedi mind trick on us in an effort to get us to pick South Carolina. I would expect Spurrier to empty the playbook as he tries to come up with a winning formula for the 'Cocks (I mean, uh, his team). I think the Fear of the Visor is reflected in the line, which looks a little low to me when you compare the talent on the two rosters, even with all the injuries in the Florida secondary.
Vinny: Griff points out that Florida's offense has sputtered on the road against everybody but Kentucky. But their other two road games were against Alabama and LSU -- very good defenses. South Carolina's defense isn't awful, but it's not in the same class as the Tide or the Tigers.
Russell: This game kicks off a crazy day in the SEC, in which each result can change what's at stake in the Auburn-Georgia game Saturday night. If Florida loses, Georgia wins the SEC East before it even takes the field. It won't happen. Florida has too much talent, and I think South Carolina might fall prey to the hype machine at home. The Gators win it (and cover) going away.
Vinny: Thanks for playing Calvin Schiraldi to my Billy Buckner. Now all the pressure is on me, at least as far as Florida fans are concerned. Well, Spurrier has changed the mindset at South Carolina, but he can't change his roster overnight. Even with all the injuries, I think the Gators will outclass the Gamecocks. (Sorry Griff.)
Russell: This one comes with a ready-made storyline as Cal was both the last team to beat USC (in September, 2003) and also the club that came the closest to derailing Pete Carroll's juggernaut last year.
Vinny: I still think Reggie Bush will be caught by Vince Young in the Heisman race before December. But then, it's late and they're cleaning the furniture in the offices next door -- I'm blaming the fumes from the wood polish. It's making me lightheaded ... and hungry. It's like I'm back in college.
Russell: Are you playing GTR on the office CD player, too? The formula for Cal's near-upset last year was surgical passing from current Green Bay Packers backup Aaron Rodgers, but it's hard to imaging Jeff Tedford getting that kind of performance from Joe Ayoob and his case of scatter-arm disease.
Vinny: Hackett to bits, baby! We'll see if Cal, coming off a tough overtime loss in Eugene, can be more than a bump in the road for USC this time. Marshawn Lynch ripped Oregon's defense for 197 rushing yards last week, but Ayoob's four turnovers in the inclement weather doomed Cal's chances.
Russell: USC has been on absolute cruise control since the escape from South Bend, demolishing three opponents by an average count of 52-19. I know Cal has had their number (as much as anyone can when you win 41 of 42 games), but I don't see this one being close. I think Leinart, Bush and friends will jump all over the Bears early. 19 points? Heck, that's practically a pick-'em for SC these days. I like USC.
Vinny: The USC defense is plenty young right now (five sophomores should be starting this week due to injuries) but I think they'll slow Lynch and Justin Forsett down just fine. The Trojans run roughshod over the Bears. I'll even make it my Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week.
Russell: Emotions will be running high as Barry Alvarez leads the Badgers onto the Camp Randall field for the final time. Before Alvarez, Wisconsin was a laughingstock; with him at the helm, the Badgers have won three Rose Bowls and been a constant presence in the Big Ten title mix.
Vinny: Wisconsin's offensive line came apart like a cheap suit against Penn State last week. After a while, it looked like John Stocco and Brian Calhoun were the only guys still competing on offense for the Badgers.
Russell: Iowa has been one of the nation's most disappointing teams this season after beginning the year as a chic pick to win the Big Ten. And yes, I really just wanted to use the word "chic" in my comments. The latest letdown was the late collapse at Northwestern last week.
Vinny: I don't expect Iowa's defensive front to shut down Calhoun or to mount the kind of pressure that Penn State applied to Stocco last week. I like the Badgers to bounce back for Barry here.
Russell: Alvarez would like to wash the taste of last week's loss out of his mouth with a win over Iowa, which would at least keep Wisconsin's hopes of sharing the Big Ten title alive for another week. Iowa will see plenty of Calhoun. Linebackers Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge will prevent him from having a huge day, but I think emotion carries Wisconsin to the win by at least a touchdown.
Russell: Well if undefeated Alabama wonders if anyone truly respects its accomplishments this season, the answer can be found in the point spread for this one. The Tide are field goal underdogs -- at home, no less -- to a wildly inconsistent, albeit very talented, LSU team.
Vinny: Seriously. Some people are calling Alabama the worst 9-0 team they can ever remember. Ouch. What about Tulane in 1998? OK, maybe they mean the worst major conference undefeated team at this point of the season. Still, it's pretty harsh.
Russell: With Alabama needing to impress the human voters to have a chance to move up to No. 2 in the BCS, the Tide might be tempted to fall into the trap of trying to blow out LSU. Mike Shula might want to remind his kids exactly how well that strategy worked out for Virginia Tech against Miami last week.
Vinny: I don't see Alabama falling into that trap -- they know what their identity is (first and foremost, their defense) at this point of the season. But now the Tide has suffered another key injury, this time to center J.B. Closner, a three-year starter. I doubt this will be felt as much as the loss of Tyrone Prothro, but we'll see if the offensive line can still pave the way for Kenneth Darby.
Russell: The defenses should dominate this one. Alabama leads the nation in fewest points allowed, and LSU has been awful stingy in putting together a six-game winning streak. But stats suggest that LSU could gain an average of 10-15 yards on each exchange of punts thanks to its advantages in the punting and return games. If -- and this is a big if -- JaMarcus Russell can take care of the football, LSU wins it going away. I like the Tigers.
Vinny: An undefeated home dog at this point of the season? Too good for me to pass up. I'll take the Tide and the field goal.
Russell: Don't look now, but Team Turmoil of a couple years ago -- Colorado -- is one win away from its second straight Big XII North title and fourth in the past five years. I think it's a miracle that Gary Barnett held onto his job at Colorado, but the man can coach. With the hits that Colorado's recruiting has taken thanks to all the sensational scandals, you have to be impressed that Barnett continues to churn out decent teams.
Vinny: Russ, are you ready to start the New Jersey Chapter of the Gary Barnett fan club?
Russell: Who am I kidding? I can't stand Barnett. I think he's a two-faced egomaniac, and I think it's a disgrace that he still has a job as a Division I-A head coach. That said, he has the Buffs playing well coming into this one. The same is true of Dan McCarney's Cyclones club, which has won three straight.
Vinny: All three of those Iowa State victories were routs, with quarterback Brett Meyer having his way. We'll see how well he can attack Colorado's mediocre pass defense. The Buffs should be able to handle Cyclones running back Stevie Hicks.
Russell: Colorado certainly has no fear of taking on Iowa State in Ames, where they've won 11 straight meetings. Make it 12. Colorado is the pick.
Vinny: Agreed. The Buffs cruise to victory.
Russell: The Regional Special this week takes us to the Sun Belt Conference for an elimination showdown between the Troy Trojans and the Arkansas State Indians in Indians Stadium. Yes, that all sounds very big time to me, too.
Vinny: Arkansas State is coming off a 45-7 shellacking at the hands of Middle Tennessee State. And that followed a 3-0 win over Florida Atlantic in their previous outing. Points are hard to come by for the Tribe (can I say that?) these days.
Russell: The loser is out of the running for the Sun Belt title and the berth in the New Orleans Bowl, which will be played somewhere other than New Orleans this year.
Vinny: Troy receiver Eugene Hampton leads the conference in receiving yards (520) despite junior quarterback Carl Meadows's struggles. Meadows is completing only 45.7 percent of his passes and has thrown 10 picks to only 6 touchdowns.
Russell: This is Troy's 10th game and seventh on the road. In other words, the Trojans are a mercenary squad, the college football equivalent of one of those "professional stepping stones" in boxing, like the legendary Mouse Strauss. Too bad for the Trojans, they're 1-5 away from home, while Arkansas State is 4-0 at home. Antonio Warren will run for a couple of scores as ASU wins easily.
Vinny: I believe the boxing terminology you're looking for (and maybe my favorite in all of sports) is "tomato can." I went to high school in a town named Troy (former home of the world's cheapest pizza), so give me the Trojans.
Russell: By the time this game kicks off, Auburn will know if it still has a shot at the SEC West title (if Alabama beats LSU, Auburn faces 'Bama for a spot in the SEC title game next Saturday) and Georgia will know if it has already won the SEC East (if South Carolina upsets Florida). Got all that?
Vinny: What was the middle part?
Russell: I'm sure the coaches will do what they can to keep the players from finding out the early results, but the players always know. I'm banking on the fact that Georgia will still need to win this one in order to clinch the East. Thankfully for the 'Dawgs, D.J. Shockley will be back at quarterback after missing the Florida loss two weeks ago with an injured knee.
Vinny: The Bulldogs also return senior defensive linemen Gerald Anderson and Kedric Golston to action. Mark Richt says this is the healthiest his team has been all season. Golston is great at plugging up the middle against the run.
Russell: Auburn is a tough team to get a read on. They haven't beaten anything even resembling a good team, so you don't want to put a lot of weight behind their statistics. The Tigers have done a good job of running the ball in recent weeks to protect quarterback Brandon Cox, but it'll be tougher sledding against a now-healthy Georgia defense. I think both the early results will work against Auburn and Georgia rolls. I'm making this my Fred Edelstein lock.
Vinny: Coming into the season, I wasn't sold on Shockley. But he's made a believer out of me this year, and it's too bad he couldn't play against the Gators. Between the hedges, at night, and with a healthy team, I like the 'Dawgs to cover.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Northwestern (+19) at #8 Ohio State||Ohio State||Northwestern|
|#13 Florida (-4) at South Carolina||Florida||Florida|
|#1 USC (-19) at California||USC||USC|
|Iowa (+2.5) at #16 Wisconsin||Wisconsin||Wisconsin|
|#7 LSU (-3) at #3 Alabama||Alabama||LSU|
|#18 Colorado (-2.5) at Iowa State||Colorado||Colorado|
|Troy (+3) at Arkansas Sate||Troy||Arkansas State|
|#20 Auburn (+3) at #9 Georgia||Georgia||Georgia|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||3-5 (0-1)||32-44-3 (3-7)|
|Russell||6-2 (1-0)||29-47-3 (6-4)|
63 comments, Last at 14 Nov 2005, 11:09pm by Michael David Smith