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.
22 Sep 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Vinny: OK, after going 1-7 last week, I'm taking requests from anyone who wants me to pick against their team. All I ask in return is a bag of FritosÂ® and maybe a Take 5 bar.
Russell: Whose performance was worse Saturday, yours or Stanford's? After losing to Division I-AA California-Davis, coach Walt Harris issued a public apology. Would you like to do the same?
Vinny: Uh, maybe next time. In a related story, I'm going to weigh 400 pounds if they don't get rid of the vending machine down the hall from me.
Russell: Can I get one of those in my office? Our chip guy's idea of a "premium item" is a bag of ginger snaps. Where are the Suzy Q'sÂ®?
Vinny: The Buckeyes still appear to be in a post-Texas fog. The Hawkeyes should get their attention, but probably not as much as a visit by 80's supergroup GreatWhiteLionSnake. Sorry, couldn't resist a shot at the Buckeye linebacker corps' flowing locks.
Russell: Michigan may have the OSU crowd beat in terms of the number of adult males wearing jean shorts, but the Bucks have definitely got us in the player mullet department. This is the first meeting of the year between teams in the Big Ten's "big three." Although Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State each have a loss while Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan State are all undefeated.
Vinny: Ohio State was crushed 33-7 in Iowa City last year. But that was before Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. really emerged as game-breakers. Smith has yet to regain his 2004 form. And he isn't getting the ball to Ginn or Santonio Holmes much between his happy feet and all the QB draws called by Senator Tressel. I thought the Buckeye offense would be a juggernaut this year -- like it was late last year -- but it has disappointed thus far.
Russell: The offense wasn't a whole lot better with Justin Zwick under center, but Troy "one read and run" has to get his playmakers some touches. Look for some wacky plays this week, maybe Ginn under center for a few snaps.
Vinny: The Hawkeyes somehow eked out 10 wins last year when they were down to their 5th-string running back. Albert Young is healthy this year and has bolstered the Iowa ground attack. Not sure about an outright win, but Iowa covers.
Russell: How many first-round linebackers will be on the field in this one? A.J. Hawk? Abdul Hodge? Bobby Carpenter? Chad Greenway? Still, I think The OSU has the edge in overall defensive quality. That will be enough, combined with the crowd noise in Columbus, to contain Iowa QB Drew Tate. Ohio State wins by 10, earning a little revenge for last year.
Vinny: This game could be a case of strength against strength: Purdue's stout run defense vs. the always-impressive Gopher rushing attack. But late in the game, it might be weakness against weakness: the Boilers have allowed nearly 650 passing yards in two games, while the air attack has always been Minnesota's El Guapo.
Russell: I would argue that an opponent with a pulse has been Minnesota's El Guapo. Glen Mason, it's time to take the program to the next level by scheduling a non-conference game against a team that people have, you know, actually heard of. When was the last time Minnesota beat a quality opponent in Big Ten play? It doesn't happen very often after the Gophers fatten up on their annual September slate of patsies.
Vinny: Mason also needs to trust his quarterback for once in a big game and let him throw on first down, and not just when the Gophers fall behind. I think Bryan Cupito, probably the best passer Mason has ever recruited, would benefit from some throwing success before crunch time. And opposing defenses might soften a bit against the run. Instead, Cupito (and Asad Abdul-Khaliq before him) inevitably finds himself in 3rd-and-long situations late in big games with the Gophers trailing by a score or two. Not a recipe for success.
Russell: Purdue, meanwhile, is quietly getting the job done. They gutted out a tough road win at Arizona last week to improve to 2-0. Brandon Kirsch hasn't quite made anyone forget about Kyle Orton and Drew Brees, but he's been solid and Jerod Void is a straight-ahead masher at tailback.
Vinny: Picking Glen Mason in a big game is like hitching a ride with Billy Joel. I wouldn't recommend it. Purdue wins by a touchdown.
Russell: Can't argue with that logic. Purdue will grind out a win, and we won't have to hear about Laurence Maroney for the Heisman after this week.
Russell: The big question in this game has to do with the health of Georgia Tech QB Reggie Ball, who sat out last week's win over Connecticut with a bout of viral meningitis. I don't even have a joke here, but I think I should.
Vinny: It's a shame 80% of the country can't see this game over the air, as ABC wants everyone to see Al Czervik's boys tune up Ty Willingham's squad in Seattle.
Russell: For the record, I like ND by about 48 points in that one, and don't think I won't claim it as a win if my other picks follow their usual form. Virginia Tech has to be the most under-the radar fourth-ranked team in college football history, although they probably don't have radar in Blacksburg, Virginia. Georgia Tech represents the stiffest defensive test for Marcus Vick and the Hokies thus far this season, and VaTech didn't exactly light up the last tough D they faced -- N.C. State in the opener.
Vinny: Besides the quarterbacks, there's also the Calvin Johnson - Jimmy Williams matchup, which should have NFL scouts drooling. But then most scouts have an overbite anyway.
Russell: I like Georgia Tech's grit, and if Ball is close to 100%, I think they can make this a very close game. Even without him, I think 11 is too high. I'll take the Yellow Jackets and the points.
Vinny: Agreed. I'm also going with the road dog (Georgia Tech).
Russell: I don't know if it's a sign of my terminal Wolverine fan-induced illness, but I didn't take one second of pleasure from last week's 55-0 pasting of EMU. Michigan makes me super nervous in this spot -- beat up, on the road, against a good team, at night.
Vinny: I'm not sure who's hurting more, the Michigan offense or the Badger D-line. The Wolverines have been down their top two right tackles, their starting tight end, and RB Mike Hart. Hart and backup RT (Kolodziej) might be back Saturday. And after losing much of its defensive line to the NFL, Wisconsin has Jamal Cooper out for the year, Justin Ostrowski out indefinitely, and Kurt Ware out with chicken pox. Offensive lineman Joe Cooper may help out the Badger defense in goal line situations this week.
Russell: Lloyd Carr, who always gets plenty of support from the two of us, is losing his reputation as a giant killer. 1-3 in his last four against Ohio State. 1-3 in his last four against Notre Dame. 1-3 in his last four bowl games. It does seem like the groundswell of disappointment among Michigan fans is growing, but I'm not ready to join them just yet.
Vinny: Both quarterbacks have something to prove. John Stocco wants to show he can be a factor in a big game. Chad Henne wants to regain the form he showed as a true freshman last year. As always, the crowd should be fairly oiled up in Madtown by kickoff, especially with the late start. Michigan is generally a terrible favorite, but when the line dips under a field goal, the Wolverines tend to get the job done. Michigan is the pick.
Russell: The Michigan defense, which got pushed around in the opener, looked pretty good against Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines still allow too many third-down conversions, but the pursuit angles and the tackling have improved. They'll need to keep it up against Brian Calhoun and the Badgers. Wisconsin's straight-ahead, no-frills offense has always been tailor-made for Michigan. The Wolverines haven't lost to the Badgers since 1994, and this won't be any different. Michigan sweats one out by at least a field goal.
Russell: This week's blogger special takes us to Tulsa, where the Golden Hurricane host the Memphis Tigers. Wow, a rare Saturday Conference-USA game. No wonder it's on UPN. Fellas, don't you know if you want national exposure you have to play on Tuesdays or Wednesdays? As an aside, I didn't even know UPN covered college football. Is Urkel going to be on the call?
Vinny: Fair question. Tulsa got into the win column last week with a 54-2 score against North Texas (after a safety by Kathy Ireland). The Golden Hurricane was stomped by Minnesota in its opener and then served as the ham and eggs for Oklahoma's TCU hangover in week two.
Russell: Memphis has struggled early this season, derailing the Heisman hopes of DeAngelo Williams. A late-season injury and a glut of talented backs made Williams decide to forego the NFL draft last season, but you have to wonder how much his stock has fallen due to the early difficulties.
Vinny: These are two pretty good offenses by Conference USA standards. Memphis gave Ole Miss a game before falling 10-6 in its opener. That's good enough for me. Heck, I'll make the Tigers my Fred Edelstein Lock. This is a calculated risk that we don't have any readers who are Memphis fans.
Russell: Well, maybe there's a Tulsa fan out there, and you'll get that Take 5 after all. I like Memphis on the road here as well, as Williams finally gets it going.
Vinny: I caught most of USC's first half against Arkansas, and it was like watching an Xbox NCAA Football game of ... well, USC against Arkansas. The Trojan offense is putting up some staggering numbers. So much for missing Norm Chow.
Russell: Given that it was an SEC team, and not even a traditional SEC doormat, that the Trojans did that to, that might have been one of the most impressive woodshed jobs in college football history. I mean, Texas Tech put an 80 on the board last week, but it was against Sam Houston State. Four touchdowns on their first eight offensive snaps? Has any team ever done that in a matchup of Division I-A teams before?
Vinny: The Trojans were reportedly so nonchalant about the drubbing they were putting on the Hogs that they were text messaging friends in the stands during the game. The young Trojan defense still needs some work, but you have to believe Pete Carroll will have it rounded into shape soon.
Russell: Autzen is a tough place to play, and the Ducks are coming off a win over Fresno State in which they rallied from a 17-0 hole. That should provide some practical experience for dealing with Hurricane Troy. Still, that number is huge. Double-digit home dogs are always tempting. Gulp. Give me the Ducks and the points as USC saves a little something for next week's roadie to Arizona State.
Vinny: During this dominant run, USC is usually kind enough each season to make one road trip interesting, but I'm not sure this is it. Kellen Clemens, Demetrius Williams & Co. should score some points, but it won't be enough to keep pace. USC covers the big number.
Note: Late Thursday, LSU officials postponed this game to Monday from Saturday because of the threat of Hurricane Rita.
Russell: What did Tennessee do to deserve the two-game road trip from hell (Florida then LSU)? Did their coach tip off NCAA investigators about recruiting activities at a rival school, then refuse to show up at SEC media day after getting subpoenaed? What? He did? Those facts couldn't be related to the schedule, could they? (I love taunting conspiracy theorists).
Vinny: The Tennessee offense looked very shaky in the Swamp. The running game was abandoned too soon by Randy Sanders, but the Florida defense plus an injury to guard Cody Douglas were factors. Now the Vols have reshuffled their offensive line again heading into this game. And Tennessee will travel to Baton Rouge on game day so as not to tie up hotel rooms needed for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
Russell: LSU, meanwhile is one of the biggest mysteries in college football. Thanks to Katrina, they've only played one game, and it was on the road, switched to Arizona State in the storm's aftermath. This is the first major sporting event in Louisiana since Katrina. Let's hope Rita leaves the region alone.
Vinny: It looks like Phil Fulmer has settled on Erik Ainge at quarterback -- for now. The Tennessee defense still looks strong. Still, there's too much going against the Vols here: on the road, in Death Valley, under the lights, the post-Katrina emotion, the Vols' offensive woes, etc. I think LSU wins big.
Russell: LSU used to play the QB shuffle with mixed results, just like Fulmer is doing now. But now it's JaMarcus Russell's job, and he delivered against ASU, throwing a game-winning TD on fourth down in the closing minutes. The Tigers have defensive concerns, but I'm not sure Tennessee will be able to exploit them. And coach Les Miles looks stylish on the sideline with that ultra-mini headset. Compare that to http://i.a.cnn.net/si/2004/writers/stewart_mandel/07/27/mailbag/p1_fulme... " target="_blank">Fulmer's sideline get-up. Edge, Miles. I like LSU to cover here as well.
Vinny: Look at you, Nick Bakay.
Russell: I'm glad to see this line moved from the opening number of ASU -4.5. Shows me I do know something about college football, because I thought that was the strangest line of the week. Arizona State is a legitimate top-15 type team, and they can score with anybody. Oregon State just got thrashed at Louisville, giving up 63 points in the process. I thought I was going to have to invoke the "when you see a line that's too good to be true, it is" rule on this one.
Vinny: Mike Riley's second act at Oregon State hasn't turned out to be quite as successful as his first -- at least not yet. WR Mike Hass is the best player on this team, but he can't do things by himself. It won't be as bad as the Louisville debacle for the Beavers, but Arizona State wins in a walk.
Russell: Thanks for keeping things brief. I think, given our records, we probably should keep it to 2,500 words.
Vinny: You're welcome.
Russell: Arizona's Sam Keller can fall out of bed and throw for 400 yards, which he needs to do because the Sun Devils can't run the ball at all. Still, that's not good news for a Beaver secondary that is still smoldering with third-degree burns and flashbacks of Brian Brohm. Arizona State will keep the misery going with a big win. The Sun Devils are my Fred Edelstein lock.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|#21 Iowa (+7) at #8 Ohio State||Iowa||Ohio State|
|#11 Purdue (+3.5) at Minnesota||Purdue||Purdue|
|#15 Georgia Tech (+11) at #4 Virginia Tech||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech|
|#14 Michigan (-2.5) at Wisconsin||Michigan||Michigan|
|Memphis (-1) at Tulsa||Memphis||Memphis|
|#1 USC (-21.5) at #24 Oregon||USC||Oregon|
|#10 Tennessee (+6.5) at #3 LSU||LSU||LSU|
|#18 Arizona State (-6) at Oregon State||Arizona State||Arizona State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||1-7 (0-1)||10-13-1 (0-3)|
|Russell||3-5 (1-0)||8-15-1 (1-2)|
59 comments, Last at 26 Sep 2005, 7:30pm by Carl