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. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
30 Sep 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: Another week, another week of lousy picks from the two of us. I don't know about you, but I think Lloyd Carr's play-calling is having an effect on my prognostication skills.
Vinny: Seriously. I haven't seen anything like this since the Anita Bryant concert.
Russell: I really don't have a joke there. Just kidding, Lloyd, we love you. Just don't lose this week, OK?
Vinny: In a related story, I'm getting really tired of the street performer guy in Terminal 1 at O'Hare Airport constantly singing Elton John's I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues. Frankly, I'm not sure what's more painful right now: our picks, Michigan's predicament, or the fact that I can't get that damn song out of my head...
Russell: It could be worse. If you lived in my house you'd wake up humming the theme to Jack's Big Music Show.
Russell: Things are getting desperate for Michigan, which is the underdog in this in-state rivalry for the first time since the Fielding Yost era, I believe. I'm trying to look for a positive in this matchup, and about the best I can come up with is that Michigan State might be overconfident.
Vinny: Slap-happy John L. Smith is still telling his team they're the underdogs, since they haven't won this contest since 2001 in the infamous Spartan Bob Clockgate game. In fact, he's now calling Michigan a "wounded dog." Does that mean the Spartans will (run and) shoot the Wolverines to death this week? Probably.
Russell: Michigan's defense has played a little better this year, but this is the first real test from one of those dreaded mobile QBs that always kill the Wolverines. Drew Stanton was in the midst of putting on a clinic against Michigan last year when he hurt his shoulder, leading to the Wolverines' spectacular comeback.
Vinny: Chad Henne is still mired in a sophomore slump without Braylon Edwards around to bail him out of trouble. Mike Hart is expected back in the Michigan lineup after a hamstring injury has kept him out the last two weeks. But how many people come back from a hamstring injury too soon and pay the price? David Akers, please pick up the white courtesy phone.
Russell: If things get ugly in this one, I might have to pop in the DVD of last year's game that UM was kind enough to include with my season tickets, so I've got that going for me, which is always nice. It kills me to say it, but I'll take Sparty and lay the points.
Vinny: This line has been rising all week. Normally, anytime Michigan is an underdog, it's a good bet. I do think this will go down to the wire, as just about every Michigan game does -- and I've got an octogenarian heart to show for it. But there are plenty of things going the Spartans' way here. I keep changing my pick in my head. Aw, screw it. I'll take my alma mater (Michigan) and the points.
Vinny: Rich Rodriguez is saying this is the best VaTech defense he's ever faced. In fact, he's saying this might be the best defense he's ever faced. Combine that with the Hokies' usually superlative special teams, and the VaTech offense has it pretty good these days.
Russell: Virginia Tech pretty much authored the statement of last Saturday, annihilating a good Georgia Tech team with some vintage Beamer ball that included a blocked field goal and two interceptions all returned for touchdowns. The Hokies are very quietly positioning themselves for a Rose Bowl berth should Texas stumble.
Vinny: The Mountaineers haven't had much of a contest since their opener in the Carrier Dome. In the process, they've gotten carries for a whole stable of running backs, including Pat White (6.7 yards per carry). And QB Adam Bednarik's grandfather was the first cousin of Chuck Bednarik.
Russell: At 4-0, West Virginia might be the Big East's best hope for a less-than-embarrassing BCS representative after Louisville was humiliated by South Florida last week. The Mountaineers' defense is strong enough to give Marcus Vick fits if he's forced to pass to beat them, but I don't think the offense can do much against the Hokies.
Vinny: I'm saddling the Hokies with my Fred Edelstein Lock this week. Let's see if they're really as good as advertised. If so, they should be able to overcome that kind of baggage.
Russell: I'm not sure anyone can overcome that. I'd feel much better about picking West Virginia if this was a night game and the crowd in Morgantown had all day to get lubricated. They'll still be feeling no pain for the noon kickoff, but I doubt we'll see any trash cans tossed from the upper deck or attempted ambulance overturnings. Still, I'm going with the double-digit home dog as West Virginia frustrates Vick enough to keep it close all day.
Russell: Nebraska may be undefeated, but I think they still trail 2-2 Illinois in the new Harris poll. Put another way, the fans in Lincoln are referring to their head coach as Beau Bridges. They're not exactly satisfied with the offense's progress in year two of Bill Callahan's West Coast attack.
Vinny: Looks like he picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue. Wait, that was Lloyd Bridges. Anyway, I'm waiting for Callahan to call his squad "the dumbest team in the country" like he did with the Raiders. The Huskers had 11 penalties for 91 yards in their close escape over Pitt two weeks ago. And they had 10 penalties the week before that. They kicked Callahan out of Oakland, but you can't take the Oakland out of him.
Russell: Iowa State laid the wood to Iowa earlier this year, although that win is looking a little less impressive each week. They're coming off a thriller against Army at West Point last Friday in which they really didn't play very well, and they will have to be much better to put up points against the Black Shirts.
Vinny: The Black Knights shut down the Iowa State running game (71 yards on 32 attempts). The Cyclones need to get Stevie Hicks going like he was against Iowa (118 yards on 28 carries).
Russell: My big concern in picking Nebraska is the line. I'm not sure they can score enough to cover, even if they shut the Cyclones out. I'll take Iowa State and the points.
Vinny: Yes, the Husker offense is awfully anemic these days -- Zac Taylor is completing only 44% of his passes. I like the road dog (Iowa State) as well.
Russell: Urban Meyer's offense gets all the attention, but his Gators are winning with defense. They completely shut down Tennessee two weeks ago and were shutting out Kentucky last week when they decided to take the second half off.
Vinny: Since Shaun Alexander and Freddie Milons left Tuscaloosa, I haven't thought of the Tide as having many offensive weapons. But RB Kenneth Darby -- who may be just as good as Gerald Riggs Jr. -- and wideout/returner Tyrone Prothro are making me re-think that.
Russell: For Florida, Chris Leak looks great throwing the ball -- gone are the poor mechanics and questionable decision-making of a year ago. But he's not the run-pass threat that Meyer loves to have in his spread-option offense, and that makes the Gators a little one-dimensional.
Vinny: This should be another down-to-the-wire contest, and probably low-scoring. But I like Leak to come through in the clutch again. The Gators win by a touchdown.
Russell: Alabama is solid, if not spectacular. Only a blowout win on the road against South Carolina raised eyebrows. But they are solid all around, and the defense is excellent. If Brodie Croyle can make a play or two down the field, they could win this game, but I have to go with the team with the overall talent edge, and that's Florida. But who cares what I think? Let's get an expert opinion, and for that, who better than Warren St. John, Alabama native, raving Crimson Tide fan, and the author of the awesome book on fandom, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer.
Warren St. John: The real problem for Alabama fans, as far as I can tell, is the overwhelming evidence, presented constantly by Florida fans and various sports writers, that Urban Meyer is actually the Messiah. It's hard enough to beat an average Division I team without having to deal with the Almighty; so by that measure, 3.5 points seems kind of stingy. What if with a single wave of the hand, Urban opens up the field and casts our starting D-line into the fiery chasm of hell, never to return? I just don't think 3 or 4 points is suitable compensation.
But let's say, for the sake of argument, that the almighty Urban plays fair, and doesn't use witchcraft or perform miracles on behalf of the Gators. In that case, Alabama has a chance ... a chance. Brodie is the man; Darby and Coffee are doing well in the backfield. The D is strong. I think the game comes down to the play of Bama's young OL and on the play of Bama's linebackers and their ability (or not) to blitz and clog up the Spread.
When I was reporting Rammer Jammer, I got to see Bama play the Gators twice and one year, and let's just say things didn't quite roll the Gators' way. In fact, I have a vivid memory of a UF student in the Swamp whose blue face paint was streaked with tears like a school girl's mascara. Losing is always an ugly experience, but when you're wearing face paint, it's a different kind of ugly. I know those losses probably feel pretty fresh to Gators fans, but to us Bama folk, they feel positively ancient. I'm cautiously optimistic that the Tide could cause some blue face paint to run this Saturday. If they do, I'm sure Urban will open up the skies and bring a cleansing rain down upon his supplicants' heads.
Vinny: Wow, how are we supposed to top that? Warren, you're my hero.
Russell: Buy the book! And check out Warren's blog. There's plenty more where that came from.
Russell: So USC falls behind 13-0 at potential danger-spot Oregon last week and I think the players were laughing. After 45 unanswered points and a blowout win, Matt Leinart said it was good to fall behind. Hey, whatever works for you, Matt. It's your world, we're just living in it.
Vinny: I'm not sure I should be saying this until USC plays a real defense this year (in the Pac-10, that may not happen until they play UCLA, if it happens at all), but is this offense better than the 1994 Penn State version? As far as NFL talent goes, I would have to say yes, although the Trojan offensive line may not be quite as good.
Russell: Sam Keller, Derek Hagan, and the ASU offense can score with anybody -- and they'll need to. But a lack of balance is going to be their undoing in this game. Simply put, USC can run the ball with Reggie Bush and LenDale White, and Arizona State can't -- not against a decent defense.
Vinny: The Trojans have had some injuries on defense, but Pete Carroll is recruiting so much talent (his student equipment managers probably run the 40 in the low 4.4's) that the backups are doing the job just fine. And this week, they got a commitment from maybe the best high school defensive back in the country (Pat Perez). It's just not fair.
Russell: USC is green on defense, but if they get a lead, the aggression comes out. They put the hammer down once they got ahead vs. Oregon. I look for SC to run the ball early and try to put some sustained drives together. That keeps Keller and Co. on the sidelines, and prevents the offensive shootout everyone is predicting. The potential upset won't materialize this week as USC cruises (and covers).
Vinny: Yup, until the line starts creeping over four touchdowns, I have to pick USC to cover every week.
Russell: This week's "blogger special" is a big game for Idaho, which, at 0-4, needs to protect those five points they received in the inaugural Harris Poll.
Vinny: Have you seen the list of voters in that Harris Poll? I have no problem with having old coaches vote. They probably enjoy watching game film (they need an excuse to get away from their wives again) and they usually know what's going on (except for maybe Earl Bruce, who's been delusional since the early-90's). But Terry Bradshaw? I don't even think he watches NFL games -- he just reads (and not very well) a shot sheet during highlights. Jack Moss has been dead for at least 10 years. Rocket Ismail? (Shudder). The list of clowns is endless.
Russell: OK Vin, you know you actually have to talk about these teams eventually, right? I actually watched a bit of the Idaho-Hawaii game last week on ESPNU. If anyone is wondering whatever became of the first ESPN "Dream Job" winner, Mike Hall, you can find him on ESPNU's studio show. Not sure where they stuck the season two winner, who was some NBA washout ... I think it was either Fennis Dembo or God Shammgod, I'm not sure.
Vinny: Utah State beat UNLV 31-24 at home last week, while Idaho lost at UNLV 34-31 a few weeks ago. I'm not sure what that means. But I'll take the team that beat the common opponent. Plus, I've had good luck with Aggies this year. Utah State covers on the road.
Russell: Did you know Idaho has its own domed stadium? Sure, my living room has greater seating capacity, but it's a dome nonetheless. It's also one of the last bastions of old-school Astroturf, which makes the broadcast look like some high-school game from 1987. I'll take Utah State in this battle of new teams in the WAC.
Vinny: So much for that vaunted Purdue front seven. The Boilers were gashed for 301 rushing yards by Minnesota last week in the Baggy Dome. Granted, the Gophers have had the best running game in the country for years. But if the Purdue defensive front can't hold up, they're in trouble because their secondary is atrocious. Oh, by the way, Bryan Cupito threw for 271 yards against Purdue. As much as I gave Glen Mason a hard time about not winning a big game last week, I really could have said the same about Joe Tiller.
Russell: Talk about getting punched in the gut. How many games has Purdue lost in excruciating fashion the last couple years? This is getting as predictable as a Michigan road opener.
Vinny: You know the Irish are looking to avenge their embarrassing showing at home against Purdue last year. It took awhile for the Notre Dame offense to get rolling in Seattle last week, but I think there will be no such hitches this week. This should be a scorefest.
Russell: Well they were rolling on their first-offensive snap, the notorious "pass right" that Weis called from his own one.
Vinny: There's no doubt Weis has made a difference for the Irish this year. And it's hard to root against him when you hear about that story. That was so impressive, I can't even call him by a Rodney Dangerfield character this week. Notre Dame wins outright at Ross-Ade.
Russell: I think last week's loss may send Purdue into a funk like the Wisconsin loss did last week. I'll take Notre Dame and the points, and make them my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Vinny: "Time on my hands, could be time spent with..." Dammit. Anyway, I think Bobby Petrino can put his realtor's business card back in his desk drawer after that 45-14 pounding at the hands of South Florida. That had to get the attention of the 'Canes.
Russell: For Louisville fans still trying to get an ID on the mugger that destroyed their Rose Bowl dreams, it was South Florida, which is not to be confused with the other D1-A stepping-stone programs in the Sunshine State. South Florida is actually in the center of the state and plays at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Central Florida is just over from USF in Orlando, and is coached by my all-time favorite Notre Dame coach, George O'Leary. Moving south, there's Florida Atlantic, coached by the immortal Howard Schnellenberger, and Florida International, coached by Don Strock -- no word on whether David Woodley (RIP) takes over the coaching reigns if FIU is struggling at halftime.
Vinny: Just how much talent is there in the state of Florida? If the Bulls can field a competitive team -- and judging by last week, they sure can -- the state is more loaded than anyone would have you believe. South Florida WR Amarri Jackson sure looks like he could play for the 'Canes or anyone else.
Russell: You're right, the most impressive thing about USF's destruction of Louisville was the display of speed. All these second-tier Florida schools have built their programs by recruiting in-state leftovers after the big three have had their pick, and I guess there's still plenty of speed to go around. That looked like one of those circa-1980s Orange Bowls where slow, lumbering Nebraska would get run out of the building by some Southern school.
Vinny: You would have to think this is a let-down situation for South Florida. But the Bulls' pass rush against Louisville was relentless, and we've seen Miami have trouble protecting Kyle Wright. I'm going to regret this (like almost all my picks), but I like the Bulls to cover and make this a game.
Russell: It's an awful lot of points to spot when your team struggles on offense, as Miami does. USF won't make it two in a row, but they can cover that number. Give me the Bulls and the points.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Michigan (+5.5) at #11 Michigan State||Michigan||Michigan State|
|#3 Virginia Tech (-10) at West Virginia||Virginia Tech||West Virginia|
|#23 Iowa State (+3.5) at Nebraska||Iowa State||Iowa State|
|#5 Florida (-4) at #15 Alabama||Florida||Florida|
|#1 USC (-16.5) at #14 Arizona State||USC||USC|
|Utah State (-2) at Idaho||Utah State||Utah State|
|#13 Notre Dame (+3) at #22 Purdue||Notre Dame||Notre Dame|
|South Florida (+21) at #9 Miami (Florida)||South Florida||South Florida|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||2-6 (0-1)||12-19-1 (0-4)|
|Russell||2-6 (1-0)||10-21-1 (2-2)|
72 comments, Last at 03 Oct 2005, 5:51pm by Carl