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?
15 Sep 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: Vin, I overheard somebody at Michigan Stadium last Saturday mention that Michigan State has benefited over the years from catching Notre Dame the week after Michigan plays the Irish. Hey, it was that kind of day at the Big House.
Vinny: Yes, it was. We know the Irish are for real, and suddenly they look like a team that has a real chance to win every one of the games on its schedule. Who can honestly say they believed that before the season? Charlie Weis, and maybe his players after he gave them the "Remember, you're a Melon!" speech a few times.
Russell: The Spartans have pretty much had their way with the Irish over the years, winning four straight at Notre Dame Stadium. Weis certainly seems to know this -- I think he's worried his team will grow overconfident after season-opening road wins over Pitt and some other school.
Vinny: The jury is still out on Michigan State, which has beaten up on Kent State and Hawaii, but the thing we do know is, if QB Drew Stanton can stay healthy, the Spartans have another potent offense this year. They're averaging nearly 600 yards per game. This will be the first mobile QB the Irish defense will face this year. But Stanton should stay in the pocket more -- or at least look for the sideline more when he does scramble -- now that John L. Smith has convinced him (probably with some slapping) how important it is for Stanton to stay healthy. The Spartan secondary should be vulnerable (when's the last time it was a strength?) due to some injuries to corners Irving Campbell and Ross Weaver.
Russell: That secondary was pretty tough back when Eddie Brown was tripping people back there. But I digress. It's getting tough already to pick against Weis, but I do think the Irish might have a tougher time with Michigan State than they realize. I know I don't have to convince you that ND could easily have lost by two touchdowns last week. But they didn't, and a lot of that has to do with Weis. Stanton and the Spartans will keep it close into the second half, but Notre Dame wins going away -- and covers.
Vinny: To me, the story for the Irish has been their defense. Everyone expected the veteran offensive group to prosper under Weis, but defensive coordinator Rick Minter has a young unit playing very well. I like the Irish to cover also.
Russell: Home 'dog, anyone? You know I love those home underdogs. Miami is favored by a touch over Clemson at the original Death Valley. The Tigers have already shown some grit this year, rallying to beat both Texas A&M and Maryland, while Miami has not played since losing its opener to FSU.
Vinny: I have to believe the 'Canes will still be an angry bunch after hitting each other in practice for the past two weeks. The question is whether they have solved their pass protection problems which, along with special teams snafus, cost them the FSU game.
Russell: Charlie Whitehurst seems to have found his mojo for Clemson. The guy who was one of the best QBs in America in 2003, and who looked lost most of last season, looks like the player of two years ago. He leads the ACC in passer efficiency, whatever's that worth.
Vinny: The Tigers looked decent in holding off Texas A&M and Maryland, but I don't think their defense will cause nearly as many problems for Miami as FSU's did. Probably a mistake, but I like the 'Canes to cover on the road here.
Russell: Miami no doubt remembers a home loss to Clemson last season that helped to wreck its season. The 'Canes can't afford to go 0-2, with both games in conference. They'll get enough out of QB Kyle Wright and the defense will take care of the rest. Miami covers.
Russell: Oh how the mighty have fallen. Anybody care to guess what the preseason advanced line on this game was? I bet it was at least a touchdown the other way.
Vinny: Are these two programs passing each other in different directions? Doubtful, but a loss here and the alarm bells will be sounding in Norman. Every program -- even the elite ones like FSU, Miami, Ohio State, and Penn State -- seems to go through a downturn once in a while with a five-plus loss season. Could this be the one for the Sooners? It's almost unthinkable with the walk-on-water status Bob Stoops has attained the last six years. But the warning signs may have been there in those three blowout losses to Kansas State, LSU and USC the last couple years.
Russell: Oklahoma still has a tough defense and Adrian Peterson -- although he may face a suspension during this game for skipping class. Quality quarterback play? Not so much. Rhett Bomar was named the starter after splitting time with Paul Thompson in the opening loss to TCU, but the offense didn't look any better last week against Tulsa.
Vinny: The Sooners didn't attempt a single pass in the 2nd half against Tulsa. This is a pride game for Oklahoma, and you have to believe Stoops will have the Sooners ready to eat light bulbs by the time he's done with his pre-game sermon. I don't know if that will be enough if Peterson doesn't play though.
Russell: UCLA and coach Karl Dorrell are under pressure to get things turned around this season, especially with the success of USC across town. A win over Oklahoma, even a diminished Sooners squad like this one, would go a long way towards building the program's legitimacy. I think they get it done, behind QB Drew Olson and RB Maurice Drew (9.5 yards per carry). I'm picking the Bruins.
Vinny: Call me a sucker, but I can't get past that spread. I think the Sooners fall but keep this close enough to cover.
Vinny: Most folks have pointed to next week's game at Oregon as the trap in #1 USC's schedule. And it would be understandable for the Ducks to be looking past Fresno State this week. But the Bulldogs have won their last three contests against Pac-10 teams.
Russell: Pat Hill's club has certainly proven capable of pulling off the road upset. In recent seasons they've won on the home fields of plenty of BCS-league schools, so you know they won't be intimidated, even among the flying urine cups at Autzen.
Vinny: I think they save those for Oregon State. How long has QB Kellen Clemens been in Eugene? I thought he was a sixth-year senior when he led the Ducks to a win over Michigan in 2003. This looks like the same old Oregon team to me: plenty of (spread option) offense, not much defense, and plenty entertaining.
Russell: Has Clemens been at Oregon any longer than Paul Pinegar at Fresno? I think he was Trent "the Gunslinger" Dilfer's backup.
Vinny: Bulldogs sophomore Clifton Hill has now returned three of the six punt returns he's handled in his career for scores. I'm predicting that percentage will go down this week, but I like Fresno State to win outright.
Russell: I'm going with the Ducks at home, as Haloti Ngata spends a lot of time in the Fresno backfield. Oregon covers.
Russell: Here's the problem with judging teams by looking at the score in the morning paper: FSU 62, The Citadel 10. But if that's all you saw, you didn't know that the 'Noles actually trailed, 10-3, late in the second quarter. Something stinks in Tallahassee, and it's not coming from Chief Osceola's horse. It's coming from the FSU offensive huddle.
Vinny: You certainly have to wonder how many more games the 'Noles would have won in the post-Weinke era if they had a serviceable signal-caller.
Russell: True enough. Drew Weatherford looked totally overmatched in the opener against Miami that Florida State somehow managed to win despite generating next to no offense. Sure, he lit up The Citadel in the second half, but Boston College's D is a lot closer to Miami's than The Citadel's.
Vinny: This will be the biggest game at the Heights since Miami (Fla.) came to town in 2001. And since FSU fans travel much better than 'Canes fans (many of whom are incarcerated), this will be the best atmosphere up there since the mid-90's. While the Eagles have giant OT Jeremy Trueblood anchoring a veteran offensive line, we'll see if it's good enough to give senior QB Quinton Porter time to throw against Mickey Andrews' defense. I'm surprised to see the line this low, but that tells you how little confidence FSU's offense inspires in people, including me. I'm going against my better judgment and picking BC to win by a Will Blackmon touchdown.
Russell: Florida State used to laugh at games like this. Some ACC interloper, say North Carolina in 1997, would get all geared up to take down the Seminoles and stake a claim to the conference crown. And then they'd kick off. And the final was usually something like 42-7. Well, we haven't seen those Seminoles the last few years. They're no longer capable of hammering teams like that. But they still have a huge advantage in big-game experience, and I think that will make the difference in this win. FSU wins by at least a figgie. In fact, I can't believe I'm going to do this with a shaky QB on the road, but FSU is my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Russell: This could turn out to be the most important game of the year in the SEC, as both these teams have conference- and national-title aspirations. It also represents the biggest-ever test for Florida coach Urban Meyer's spread-option offense. Meyer won with the scheme at both Bowling Green and Utah, but he's never taken it up against a team ranked higher than 19th.
Vinny: Tennessee slogged through an ugly 17-10 win over UAB in its opener and healed up some injuries during its bye week. The Vols better be healthy and ready, because they follow this trip to the Swamp with another road game at #3 LSU next week.
Russell: Those who question whether all Florida's delay draws, shotgun traps, shovel passes, and other misdirection plays can work against a top-flight defense, are going to get their answer this week. Chris Leak has thrown the ball well in two opening wins over directional patsies, but has struggled with the option game.
Vinny: It should be interesting to see how Vols defensive coordinator John Chavis deals with the Florida attack. Tennessee had success getting to Florida's quarterbacks in the Zook and (late) Spurrier eras, but Leak gets rid of the ball pretty quickly in Meyer's offense.
Russell: Vin, I know how much you love QB rotations, like the one Fulmer employs at Tennessee with Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen. Personally, I'd like to see big Phil stick with Clausen, who has delivered time and again since the end of last season. If he does, I like Tennessee to pull the road upset, or certainly keep it close enough to cover.
Vinny: The Big Creamsicle has given Clausen the start, but I'm sure Ainge will get the call as soon as Clausen struggles in the Swamp. Still, six points is too much here. I like the Vols also.
Russell: Our "Guy Named Gal" blogger special this week is the battle of New Mexico. Is there even one of those goofy college football trophies at stake in this game? I mean, if Iowa and Iowa State play for the Cy-Hawk, do the Lobos and Aggies play for the Loogie?
Vinny: Umm. Let's move on. Personally, after hearing Paul McGuire will be calling college football games next year, I'm hoping this is the type of game ESPN assigns him to. "You think Jimmy Cottrell doesn't want to win this game? And watch this! Look at that! He made the tackle!"
Russell: Vin, this game is on local TV. And the broadcast is delayed until later in the evening.
Russell: Anyway, New Mexico State has -12 yards rushing in two games. If that's not a Hal Mumme offense, I don't know what is. I like the Lobos (that's New Mexico) to win in a rout. They'll cover.
Vinny: The Aggies have been pounded 73-17 in their first two losses. Brings a whole new meaning to Hal "I Want My" Mumme. But it's a big number in a rivalry game (this is a rivalry game, right?), so I'll take the Aggies and the points.
Russell: You think anybody enjoyed last Saturday's out-of-town Big Ten scoreboard more than Purdue? While the Boilers were busy destroying Akron 49-24 in their opener, conference heavyweights Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State all lost non-conference games. With Purdue not playing either Michigan or Ohio State this season, an undefeated non-conference slate could give the Boilers a leg up on the Big Ten's BCS bid.
Vinny: This is the start of a rough stretch for Arizona. After hosting Purdue, the Wildcats are on the road against #15 Cal and #1 USC. Ouch. And taking a look at the rest of the schedule, that opening loss to Utah might be the one that keeps the 'Cats home for the holidays.
Russell: Kyle Orton is gone from last year's Purdue team, but he's one of the only missing pieces, as the Boilers returned 19 starters, including all 11 on defense. With their schedule and all those other teams already having lost, Purdue has a golden opportunity to get to the BCS this season.
Vinny: Brandon Kirsch doesn't have the same arm as Orton but he's accurate and has good feet. These are two pretty quick defenses but I don't trust the 'Cats to keep pace with the Purdue offense. The Boilers win (and cover) in a rout. This is my Fred Edelstein Lock (sorry Purdue fans -- I really don't do this on purpose to curse teams! I swear!).
Russell: I'm not sure how quickly Arizona is progressing under second-year coach Mike Stoops. I do know the uniforms are regressing. A big off-color stripe across the back with "Arizona" printed on it ... are you kidding me? That's enough for me to lay the eight with Purdue.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Michigan State (+6.5) at #10 Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Notre Dame|
|#13 Miami (Fla.) (-7) at #20 Clemson||Miami||Miami|
|#21 Oklahoma (+6.5) at UCLA||Oklahoma||UCLA|
|#23 Fresno State (+2.5) at Oregon||Fresno State||Oregon|
|#8 Florida State (-1) at #17 Boston College||Boston College||Florida State|
|#5 Tennessee (+6) at #6 Florida||Tennessee||Tennessee|
|New Mexico State (+22.5) at New Mexico||New Mexico State||New Mexico|
|#12 Purdue (-8) at Arizona||Purdue||Purdue|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||5-2-1 (0-1)||9-6-1 (0-2)|
|Russell||3-4-1 (0-1)||5-10-1 (0-2)|
68 comments, Last at 21 Sep 2005, 12:49pm by B