Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
21 Oct 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Vinny: After maybe the most exciting Saturday of the season, none of these games really gets my pulse going. But then, I'm so out of shape these days, I'm sure I can induce a massive coronary event by just walking back and forth to my fridge three or four times this weekend.
Russell: Well, I'll try not to tax you too much in this column. With West Virginia-South Florida postponed by Hurricane Wilma, we're only doing seven games this week. I don't know about you, but I'm counting that one as a win.
Vinny: You could use it.
Russell: No more jokes about the record. I'm treating it like the seventh inning of a no-hitter. If I don't talk about it, it'll go away.
Russell: Has anybody ever actually seen John L. Smith and Judd Heathcote in the same room? I kept waiting for JLS to start slapping himself in the forehead a la Judd during that halftime interview for the ages last Saturday.
Vinny: John L. seems like part cowboy and part wacko. Kind of Robert Duvall meets Crispin Glover. But he is who he is and isn't afraid to speak his mind. Pretty refreshing in a conference that has given us the personality vacuums of Paranoid Lloyd and Senator Sweatervest.
Russell: You'll get no argument from me, I love having him in the conference.
Vinny: The Spartans had all kinds of problems against Ohio State, including allowing Drew Stanton to be sacked 12 times. The Buckeyes have a very good defense, but it was surprising to see them get through a veteran offensive line to a mobile guy like Stanton.
Russell: Michigan State won't see that type of defense this week. In fact, I don't think we'll see much defense played at all. Both teams are horrendous against the pass.
Vinny: Nobody wants to play the Wildcats in Evanston, where they seem to be unstoppable on offense. But they don't seem to have enough confidence on the road. Still, Brett Basanez might be playing quarterback better than anyone else in the Big Ten right now. These teams are very similar on offense, and comparably vulnerable on defense. But I like the Spartans' superior personnel to cover the spread in East Lansing.
Russell: It's too tall an order for Northwestern on the road. I like MSU by a couple of touchdowns.
Russell: Strange line of the week here. All Virginia did last week was beat then No. 4 Florida State, 26-21, as QB Marques Hagans enjoyed a huge night. In North Carolina's last outing, the Heels dropped a 69-14 nail-biter to Louisville two weeks ago. Yet the Tar Heels are favored. Since I clearly know a lot about point spreads, I feel obligated to point out that this line might be too good to be true.
Vinny: Ahmad Brooks and the Virginia defense also came up big when it mattered against the Seminoles. Of course, it helps when Drew Weatherford is playing catch with your defense.
Russell: On offense, Hagans was simply outstanding, but Virginia rushed for only 20 yards. I have a feeling the Cavs might have spent the past week basking in the glow of that win, while North Carolina has had two weeks to recover from a beatdown by Louisville.
Vinny: Diminutive WR Jarwarski Pollack was under the weather and had to sit out the Louisville game for the Tar Heels, but he's back this week as one of Matt Baker's favorite targets.
Russell: North Carolina is capable of pulling the upset -- they knocked off Miami last year -- and is catching Virginia at the right time. With that line, somebody knows something, and to quote Lee Corso, I'm going with the somebody. North Carolina wins by a field goal.
Vinny: The Miami win saved John Bunting's job last year and enabled the Heels to go bowling for the first time in a while. Getting back to a bowl game this year doesn't look promising with Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech still on the schedule after the Cavaliers visit Chapel Hill. I like Virginia to cover, and I'll make the Cavs my Fred Edelstein Lock (after making FSU my Lock against them last week).
Russell: This week's Regional Special takes place in Athens, Ohio, as Peter King's alma mater battles the school my brother, a Purdue grad, used to refer to as "Testicle Tech."
Vinny: Nothing but class, your family. Nothing but class. Of course, your brother was also in AGR â€“ the agricultural fraternity at Purdue. I don't even want to think about what happened at their rush parties. (Shudder).
Russell: That makes two of us. The Fighting Frank Soliches have had an up-and-down year, beating Pitt in overtime on national TV, but sitting at 2-4 overall. Ohio is 2-0 at home, however, while Ball State is 1-3 on the road.
Vinny: Solich has been rotating his quarterbacks (junior Austin Everson and freshman Brandon Jones). That's always my pet peeve, but this is such a mismatch that Solich might have a chance to play four or five signal-callers.
Russell: A series of suspensions to starting players has turned Ball State into a mere stepping stone for most opponents this season. They're giving up 48 points per game. I was all set to take the Bobcats, but then I decided to log some time on a few degenerate gambling sites (are there any other kind?) this week. Did you know that Ball State is 4-2 against the number this year, while Ohio U. is 2-4? Works for me. Plus, David Letterman is a lot funnier than Peter King. I'm going with Ball State.
Vinny: Ball State should have just about everybody back. But it shouldn't matter. The Bobcats win going away.
Russell: So, if you're an Alabama fan, you have to be thrilled with the last-play win over Ole Miss. After all, your team is undefeated and atop the SEC. But at the same time, you have to be a little bit worried that the offense looked stuck in the mud without the injured Tyrone Prothro.
Vinny: Kenneth Darby may find it tougher to break loose without Prothro to stretch the defense. Tennessee has a solid run defense again this year, so the Vols will force Brodie Croyle to find another weapon (Keth Brown?) to beat them.
Russell: Expect a few extra marshals to surround Phil "Deep Throat" Fulmer on the sidelines this week, and you know the 'Bama fans are just dying to send the Vols off the field with a few Rammer Jammer chants. Tennessee has had a week off since dropping its second game of the season. I'm not sure the Vols are going to come in with any confidence, and in a very hostile atmosphere, things could snowball on them.
Vinny: The Vols have faced Top 10 opponents on the road 9 times in the last 8 seasons, coming away with 6 wins. Like Michigan though, Tennessee is a real Jekyll and Hyde team week to week.
Russell: I'm willing to give 'Bama a mulligan for the subpar effort last week. The Tide had two weeks to hear about how great they were after thrashing Florida and came out a bit flat. The crowd won't let them do that this week. Alabama is the pick.
Vinny: With Darby and Gerald Riggs Jr., two of the best backs in the country will be showcased for scouts in this one. I'm going with Tennessee to win another dog fight on the road.
Russell: How many coaches across America do you think are hoping to see Texas up by 40 at the end of this game and still throwing the ball?
Vinny: Texas Tech has certainly demolished the likes of Florida International, Sam Houston State, Indiana State, and Kansas State. What, the San Antonion School of Culinary Arts was unavailable?
Russell: Texas Tech coach Mike Leach makes no apologies for running up the score. Tech smacked K-State 59-20 last week, as Cody Hodges threw for about 1,000 yards on 134 attempts. I'm not wasting time looking up the exact stats because they don't matter until Tech beats an actual team with a pulse.
Vinny: The Red Raiders were congratulating themselves coming off a similar rout last year (a 70-10 whipping of Nebraska) before running into the Texas buzzsaw. The 'Horns destroyed the Red Raiders 51-21 in Lubbock, amassing 351 rushing yards in the rout. But Leach claims to have learned his lesson and is not allowing his players to revel in their victories this year.
Russell: It was lost among all the incredible finishes last week, but Texas stomped Colorado as Vince Young enjoyed one of the best days of his career. If it weren't for Reggie Bush, the Heisman would be a one-man race. I can't see Tech keeping things close against UT. The Red Raiders are likely to get dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, giving Hodges little time to throw, and Texas plenty of room to run. Texas will serve up to Tech a bit of its own medicine, and cover the big number.
Vinny: Tech is nationally ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense, total defense and turnover margin. Granted, that's against a parade of patsies that would make the military industrial complex mighty proud. Still, I'm feeling especially gullible this week. I think Tech has the toughness to stay within a couple touchdowns. Give me the Red Raiders and the points.
Vinny: Good win for Mike Reilly's crew last week over Cal (23-20), although I suspect the Bears were masquerading as a good team.
Russell: UCLA is definitely a good team, although I suspect they're masquerading as a great one. QB Drew Olson and RB Maurice Drew led a dramatic comebck against Washington State last week, twice rallying from 21 down to win in OT at the Palouse. Not that any of that matters, I just really enjoy saying "Palouse."
Vinny: The Bruins' offense has been extremely entertaining, especially with the great second half adjustments the coaching staff and Olson have been making. UCLA has outscored is opponents 88-17 in the fourth quarter.
Russell: Oregon State is a very quiet 4-2 on the year. Tailback Yvenson Bernard had to be smiling while watching tape of the UCLA-Wazzu game, as the Bruins gave up 330 yards on the ground. Bernard is coming off a 194-yard performance against Cal.
Vinny: These squads haven't met since 2002, when UCLA prevailed 43-35 in Corvallis. The Beavers still don't have a defense capable of slowing down an offense as potent as the Bruins'. UCLA covers in another Pac-10 track meet.
Russell: I agree with you about the track-meet part, but UCLA is ripe for an upset. They've been courting trouble for weeks, and it will finally catch up with them Saturday. I like Oregon State to win outright, as Matt Moore finds the best receiver you've never heard of, Mike Hass (51 catches, 848 yards) for two scores.
Vinny: Auburn has been flying under the radar since losing its opener 23-14 to Georgia Tech. But Auburn leads the SEC in third-down conversions at 50.7 percent. Then again, Auburn has had a very favorable schedule since the opener. Now things get interesting with Georgia and Alabama looming after LSU.
Russell: Favorable? That's one way to put it. The only team Auburn has beaten during the winning streak is Division I-AA Western Kentucky.
Vinny: Kenny Irons will shoulder the load in the backfield for Auburn with Brad Lester out with a groin injury (cue the Sam Malone rap). Shouldn't be a problem though, as Irons will be seeking his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game.
Russell: Neither Irons nor QB Brandon Cox has seen a real defense since that opening loss to Georgia Tech. That changes Saturday. The LSU defense has been good enough to overcome a barrelful of mistakes by the offense (five turnovers in a win over Florida last week). They'll create some havoc in the Auburn backfield.
Vinny: I think LSU is starting to show a nasty streak after the loss at home to Tennessee last month. I like LSU to cover, as this one should be over by halftime.
Russell: As long as JaMarcus Russell doesn't treat the football like a live grenade, LSU will be fine. I'm making the (LSU) Tigers my Fred Edelstein Lock this week.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Northwestern (+12) at #24 Michigan State||Michigan State||Michigan State|
|Virginia (+1.5) at North Carolina||Virginia||North Carolina|
|Ball State (+8) at Ohio||Ohio||Ball State|
|#19 Tennessee (+3) at #5 Alabama||Tennessee||Alabama|
|#7 Texas Tech (+16) at #2 Texas||Texas Tech||Texas|
|Oregon State (+9) at #9 UCLA||UCLA||Oregon State|
|#18 Auburn (+6.5) at #6 LSU||LSU||LSU|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||4-4 (0-1)||23-32-1 (2-5)|
|Russell||2-6 (0-1)||17-38-1 (4-3)|
85 comments, Last at 27 Oct 2005, 11:28am by Sid