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?
27 Oct 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: No time for silly pre-picks banter this week, Vin, since we're doing the Thursday night game. Besides, I've run out of material to make fun of myself.
Vinny: You should have told me, I have plenty. Although you know it's bad when my record is starting to look respectable.
Russell: Let's just get to the picks.
Russell: While the college football world debates USC vs. Texas this week, you can almost hear the complaining from Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech is undefeated and largely unloved. Why is it that the Hokies can't seem to get serious consideration as national-title contenders? Maybe it's because they're playing on Thursday night for the second straight week. Yes, the Thursday-nighter gives them a rare national TV date, but it also seems somewhat beneath an elite program.
Vinny: Actually, you can hear it. Frank Beamer actually addressed the Hokies' plight to the media this week, outlining how he thinks they can crack the top two spots in the BCS rankings. Bulletin board material is often overrated, but you know the Hokies' remaining opponents (including Boston College) took notice of Beamer's remarks.
Russell: Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's offense and Marcus Vick did everything possible to try and make last week's game with Maryland close for a while, turning the ball over on consecutive second-half possessions. But the defense wouldn't allow the Terps to make a game of it.
Vinny: The Eagles' 6-1 start is the program's best since 1992. They have definitely shown a toughness that they've lacked in recent seasons, with a 16-13 overtime win at Clemson and a 35-30 comeback over Wake Forest. But after getting dominated by Florida State's defense at home, the Eagles have to come up big against Virginia Tech if they want to be taken seriously as a contender in the ACC. The last time these teams faced off in Blacksburg, Boston College left town with a 34-27 victory two years ago. Both of these teams are much better than their respective 2003 versions.
Russell: The Hokies have to be thrilled with the play of Marcus (a.k.a. "New Mexico") this season. He's sixth in pass efficiency (one spot ahead of Matt Leinart) and the three INTs vs. Maryland were definitely an aberration. Boston College might be without its premier pass-rusher, Mathias Kiwanuka. Uh oh. I see the Eagles hanging tough into the second half, but VaTech wins this one going away (and covers).
Vinny: Kiwanuka missed the Wake Forest contest last week, and hasn't had much success this year (3.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss) with teams focusing on him. The Eagles could use some stability at quarterback between Matt Ryan and Quinton Porter. I don't think either will find any rhythm against the VaTech defense. The Hokies prevail by a couple touchdowns.
Russell: Well at least you know the BCS officials are happy we both picked VaTech.
Russell: Seeing this game on the schedule without either team ranked is just depressing. For about 25 years, this was one of those games that you (a) never missed and (b) always took a rooting interest in, even if you had no ties to either school. I was always a Nebraska guy.
Vinny: I was an Oklahoma guy -- for my money (and probably his, in unmarked bills), nobody ran the option better than Jamelle Holieway.
Russell: I did love Holieway -- nobody pitched the ball 30 yards down the field like that guy. I have to hand it to Nebraska fans, they're showing incredible patience with Bill Callahan. If he's made any progress in rebuilding Nebraska into a west coast passing offense, it's being measured in millimeters. At most other schools, they'd be hanging the guy in effigy by now. And really, is there anything better in sports than fans hanging somebody in effigy? How is there's a national uproar over the pink visiting locker room at Iowa, but not a peep about hanging a likeness of a coach from a noose?
Vinny: I've never been to Memorial Stadium, but Nebraska fans are considered by many to be among the best in the college football, often applauding opposing teams and even their own team after a loss. Maybe that explains some of it.
Russell: It's tough to take Oklahoma on the road here, no matter how mediocre Nebraska has been at home the last couple of years. Nebraska's 4-2 against the number this season and 3-1 ATS at home (yes, I was back on the degenerate gambling sites this week). Oklahoma's 2-5 against the spread and 1-2 on the road. Good enough for me. I'll take the Huskers.
Vinny: Subbing for Adrian Peterson last week, Jacob Gutierrez and Allen Patrick rolled up over 200 yards rushing in the Sooners' overtime win over Baylor. Peterson is still iffy for this one. And while Rhett Bomar isn't exactly Brad Smith, he can continue the headaches for the Husker defense. I like the Sooners.
Vinny: The nation's best rushing offense (Minnesota) faces the nation's best rushing defense (Ohio State) up in the Hefty Dome. Everyone knows about Laurence Maroney, but Gary Russell is also making a name for himself as a very good running back.
Russell: If only the Minnesota fans were talking about their rushing offense, life would be good. But something tells me not everyone has gotten over the last game two weeks ago -- when the Gophers lost to Wisconsin by virtue of a blocked punt in the last 30 seconds.
Vinny: Ohio State seemingly romped 41-10 over Indiana last week, but it was another sloppy performance by the Buckeyes, with a rash of penalties plus a couple turnovers. In fact, Ohio State is now 101st in the nation in turnover margin. Yikes.
Russell: Ohio State has made a habit of winning sloppy games in recent years, and it's still tough to take Minnesota seriously in a big game, despite the win over (gulp) Michigan a few weeks back.
Vinny: Glen Mason will probably spend half the game staring a hole of envy right through Senator Tressell, since the Buckeye job is the one he's always dreamed of (and interviewed for). I think this is where the Gophers start their annual late-season slide. The Fighting Sweatervests (Buckeyes) roll. OSU is my Fred Edelstein lock.
Russell: I like Ohio State's defense in the matchup vs. Minnesota's offense, and on the other side of the ball, I think Troy Smith could be in for a big day scrambling against the Gophers, who've no doubt spent a lot of time watching the tape of what Penn State's Michael Robinson did to them earlier this year. Ohio State covers.
Vinny: This game has been moved up in the day since the light standards at the Orange Bowl were damaged by Hurricane Wilma. Many Hurricane players and coaches are still without power and water in their homes, but you have to believe they're pretty used to this stuff.
Russell: Yeah, they've only dealt with about 73 hurricanes already this season. But global warming doesn't exist.
Vinny: Shh. There's no politics in football. Miami QB Kyle Wright has been struggling ever since the opener against Florida State, but he always has plenty of help each week from Tyrone Moss, Greg Olson and and Ryan Moore.
Russell: I flipped on the news Thursday morning and saw they were handing using the Orange Bowl as a staging area for relief supplies. What happens to those people on Saturday at noon? They could probably play this game at a high school field for all the people that are going to show up. But those that do are going to see a Miami team in revenge mode.
Vinny: You're right. I think most of this Miami team still bitterly remembers their 31-28 loss in Chapel Hill last year. I just don't see how North Carolina is going to move the ball against an outstanding Miami defense. In fact, I'm surprised that none of the Hurricane defenders (like Baraka Atkins or Brandon Merriweather) have become household names yet. The 'Canes cover at home.
Russell: North Carolina did reward the oddsmakers' faith last week by beating Virginia as a surprise favorite. The final score was 7-5. Must have been thrilling. I don't see the Heels moving the ball this week either. I think Miami will put this one away by halftime. I'll lay the big number with the 'Canes.
Russell: The game we originally wanted to do for the Regional Special was 5-1 Penn at 5-1 Brown for first place in the Ivy League, but unfortunately they don't publish lines on Ivy League games. By request of Aaron and the other Brown alumni at Football Outsiders, we're both taking Penn and the nonexistent points.
Vinny: Speak for yourself. I was going to tease Brown, Columbia and the under on Friday's closing Dow Jones Industrial Average. But we digress. After going 0-11 last year, Central Florida is only two wins from assuring a winning season. George O'Leary is working his magic (no, I'm not talking about embellishing resumes). He's been rotating running backs Kevin Smith, Jason Peters and Dontavius Wilscox with some success.
Russell: Meanwhile, remember when Steve Logan was the hot mid-major coach around the country? He turned down a bunch of better jobs to stay at ECU. Then he got fired and was last seen coaching in NFL Europe. The lesson? Don't say no when the big schools come calling. Meanwhile, Steve, Eddie Fogler is on the white courtesy phone.
Vinny: East Carolina can't run the ball (105 yards per game) or stop the run (225 yards per game). That's a recipe for heartache, kind of like following Burger King's French Toast Sticks with an order of their Chicken Fries. The Golden Knights (Central Florida) swab the deck with the Pirates.
Russell: Nice analogy, that was downright Corso-esque. ECU has actually shown some signs of turning things around under first-year head coach Skip "to my Lou" Holtz, who had to figure he'd be coaching South Carolina this season. Vin, I've actually been to Greenville. My brother used to live there. Nice town, nice folks. I'm going with ECU.
Russell: Bad timing for Georgia, losing quarterback D.J. Shockley to a knee injury going into the Cocktail Party against Florida.
Vinny: Joe Tereshinksi III takes the reins from Shockley this week. He sounds like the heir to a hardware store empire. Actually, his grandfather, father and uncle have all played football on great Georgia teams. Is Joe III (I like to call him "Trey") next? He's a fourth-year junior who hadn't attempted a pass until the opener this year against Boise State. For the season, he is 13 of 23 passing for 207 yards and one interception. I think it's safe to say Thomas Brown and Danny Ware will get a few more carries than usual.
Russell: Meanwhile, is there a more maligned 5-2 team than Florida? The Urban Meyer bandwagon cleared off in a big hurry after losses to Alabama and LSU. Give the man a chance to get his type of players in there. Chris Leak is clearly not the best fit for this offense.
Vinny: Leak has had some issues with a sore right shoulder. And when your head coach is crying in his post-game press conferences, like Meyer has, you're going to get your fair share of abuse. I mean, what is this -- Terms of Endearment or a football game?
Russell: I guess it's safe to assume that you're not offended by the pink locker room at Iowa. Even with the injury to Shockley, I'm still a little surprised that Florida is favored. It may seem like a sucker's bet (and God knows, I'm a sucker), but I really feel Georgia is still the better team, and it's hard to ignore the four points. I'll take the 'dog, make that the 'Dawgs.
Vinny: Florida's defense (5th nationally in total defense and scoring defense) will prove too stiff a test for my man Trey. The Gators are the pick.
Russell: Shhh. Don't look now, but Rutgers is one win away from bowl eligibility. With the Red Sox winning last year's World Series and the White Sox doing the same this year, I'm thinking Rutgers in a bowl game might be the final sign of the approaching Apocalypse. When's the Hale-Bopp comet coming back around, anyway?
Vinny: Right about the time Fisher DeBerry gets hired as a sensitivity trainer for the ACLU.
Russell: No, Rutgers hasn't beaten anybody even halfway decent. But they're learning to take care of business on the road, and they hung in for a while against West Virginia at home. Plus, fullback Brian Leonard, a mauler with some wiggle in the Mike Alstott mode, is worth the price of admission.
Vinny: By the way, for the second straight year, Navy will have tryouts for the "12th Mid" on Monday. Unlike Texas A&M's tradition, only one senior is selected for the coverage team on the first kickoff in a particular game -- this year it's Temple (nice choice) in a few weeks. Roger Staubach has even given his blessing for the lucky senior to wear his old No. 12. Cool stuff.
Russell: If this were a noon kickoff, I might have to take a trip down the Turnpike with my buddy Gal to take in the atmo at Rutgers stadium. But alas, the 3:30 kickoff would jeopardize my return in time for the Michigan game at 7. And I don't want to miss a minute of those four hours of torture live. As it is, I'll be keeping a close eye on RU (make that a close ear, the game's not on TV until an 11:30 p.m. tape delay). As a proud New Jerseyan (exit 15W!) it's my duty to pick Rutgers. The Knights go bowling after dispatching the Middies by a touchdown. In fact, I'm making this my Fred Edelstein lock.
Vinny: OK, you're really going to make me talk about this game? The Middies nearly upset both Maryland and Stanford this season. Good enough for me, especially since I learned my lesson the last time I picked the Scarlet Knights (they were crushed by West Virginia). Navy wins outright.
Russell: Vin, I take it you'll be in attendance Saturday evening at Ryan Field?
Vinny: Yes, although I'm looking forward to this game about as much as a Stevie Nicks concert. I'm hoping this doesn't do as much damage to my heart and liver as last weekend (wedding in Baltimore Friday night, stayed up all night, got on a 6 a.m. flight out of BWI, arrive at O'Hare at 7 a.m., then drive with a college buddy to Iowa City in time for an 11 a.m. kickoff, and that doesn't include another coronary-inducing game).
Russell: I'm not sure why you want to do that to yourself. You know this one is going to be torturous, perhaps even along the lines of the 54-51 debacle in 2000. Northwestern's offense (5th nationally in total offense) is frightening. They run those delay counters and bubble screens with the best of them. Michigan, meanwhile hasn't shown any signs of stopping either play anytime in the past five years or so.
Vinny: Brett Basanez might be the best quarterback in the Big Ten this year (although Drew Tate is right there). And RB Tyrell Sutton may be the best freshman in the land. If you can't disrupt the Wildcats' offense with your front four and trust your linebackers to not over-pursue, you're usually in for a long day. We'll see if Wolverine LBs David Harris, John Thompson and Prescott Burgess (not to mention Michigan defensive coordinator Jim Hermann) are up to the task.
Russell: Northwestern's defense is also frightening -- for Northwestern. The Wildcats are dead last in the nation in yards allowed. I'm just worried about Michigan's ability to stay aggressive in a road game enough to take advantage. I have a real dilemma here -- do I pick with my heart and take Michigan, even though I'm terrified of this game? Or do I go with Northwestern and hope the reverse hex prevails? I have to go with my heart. Michigan will find a way to get it done on the road.
Vinny: Well, I'm going with my head. Mike Hart has to be healthy and Chad Henne has to be sharp for Michigan to pull this out. Michigan is generally a very good underdog but a very poor favorite. Northwestern will at least cover.
Russell: Wow, if I switch my pick, wouldn't that almost guarantee a Michigan win? I'm not sure the football Gods would recognize that as a sincere effort, though. I'll stick with the Wolverines. Shame on you for having no faith.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|#14 Boston College (+13) at #3 Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech|
|Oklahoma (-1) at Nebraska||Oklahoma||Nebraska|
|#13 Ohio State (-3) at #20 Minnesota||Ohio State||Ohio State|
|North Carolina (+19.5) at #7 Miami (Florida)||Miami||Miami|
|Central Florida (+2.5) at East Carolina||Central Florida||East Carolina|
|#4 Georgia (+5.5) vs. #19 Florida||Florida||Georgia|
|Navy (+6.5) at Rutgers||Navy||Rutgers|
|#25 Michigan (-4) at #21 Northwestern||Northwestern||Michigan|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||2-4-1 (0-1)||25-36-2 (2-6)|
|Russell||2-4-1 (0-1)||19-42-2 (4-4)|
127 comments, Last at 02 Nov 2005, 9:10pm by Pat