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?
06 Oct 2005
WARNING: The opinions expressed in this column are the authors' and the authors' alone (like anybody else would want to claim them, have you seen their record?) and should in no way be considered a negative reflection on the expertise offered by the rest of the Outsiders in matters regarding football (and feng shui, of course).
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: As my daughter likes to say when we tell her she's in trouble "blah, blah, blah." Yeah, the record sucks. In fact, if you were trying to pick incorrectly as often as I have done this year, you'd have a hard time coming close. I have indeed entered ... the Serby Zone. Cue the Beck music, cause I'm a loser baby.
Vinny: According to sports psychologist Bob Rotella, most introductory psychology courses teach that, whatever the problem, it's your mother's fault, your teachers' fault, or your little league coach's fault. I'm going with all of the above.
Russell: If my picks were a college football program, I'd be Rutgers. If only I could put that one good week together, I know I could turn it around. Perhaps I should try recruiting advice for my picks from the leftovers in Florida. That'll do it! Speaking of RU...
Russell: I'm looking for a little home-state karma to kick things off this week, as the 3-1 Scarlet Knights are home dogs against West Virginia. Could this be the year Rutgers finally breaks out? The Knights are one horrendous half from being undefeated on the year, but then again, they haven't exactly played the cream of Division I-A crop.
Vinny: The Mountaineers are sitting atop the Big East at 1-0 and 4-1 overall. But they were barely scraping by -- edging mediocre teams like Syracuse and East Carolina -- until Virginia Tech rang their bell last week.
Russell: I spoke to a couple of Rutgers grads to get a feel for this game. My next-door neighbor, who admitted to staying up late last Friday to see how the Knights would blow a big lead against Pitt (they nearly complied), assumes the 3-1 record will soon be 3-4. My blogger-friend Gal admitted having very few actual football memories, but did recall getting punched in the face at a game after telling a BC fan he got the lipstick for the red "R" on his chest from the fan's mother. Who said there are no intense rivalries in the Big East? (You can visit Gal's blog for the full story.) Don't know if that helps me make a pick though.
Vinny: I don't think West Virginia is very good this year. And Rich Rodriguez has been rotating his young quarterbacks (Adam Bednarik and Pat White), which always gives me the shakes. The Knights' Ryan Hart is a senior signal-caller who looks to be cutting down on his picks (8 TDs/2 INTs) this year. The Mountaineers escaped with a 35-30 win in this series last year, but I don't think they'll be as fortunate this year. As (the now svelte) Peter King would say, I'll take the Men of Schiano (Rutgers).
Russell: It comes down to this: any time an actual living, breathing, Division I-A team is laying only a field goal to Rutgers, you have to go with the favorite. I'll take West Virginia, and make them my Fred Edelstein Lock for good measure.
Russell: Vin, I ask you, has any coach in any sport been under as much pressure to win a single game as Texas's Mack Brown is in this one? The man literally could get fired, despite averaging 10 wins a year, if he loses to OU for sixth straight season.
Vinny: It happened to John Cooper, and undeservedly so if you ask me -- I'm being both serious and sarcastic, if that makes any sense. But even Cooper had his fleeting moments of triumph over his archrival.
Russell: You know Texas doesn't just want to win this game, they want to destroy the Sooners as payback for some of those humiliating final scores the last few years. But if the Longhorns take that approach, it could backfire. They need to treat this game like Oklahoma is the toughest team they'll play all year.
Vinny: Rhett Bomar is improving, but he's still a much bigger threat running than he is passing (sound familiar?). Obviously, the Sooners need a banged-up Adrian Peterson (sprained right ankle) to break through what you would expect to be a stacked Texas defensive front. That's not going to happen much with a young Oklahoma line going against a veteran Texas defense.
Russell: Oklahoma is going to have to try and win a low-scoring affair. Their run defense has been excellent the last few weeks, but a lot of teams have tried -- and lost -- with the "force Vince Young to pass and you win the game" approach. Texas is clearly the better team, but I have a hard time picturing them not playing tight, and because of that, the line is too high. Give me OU and the points.
Vinny: Sometimes it's hard not to believe that Bobby Stoops has a permanent hex over Brown, but I just don't see Texas folding like Superman on laundry day this time. Texas rolls (and covers). This is my Fred Edelstein Lock (how's that for a hex?). Of course, Brown still needs to finish strong to earn the first conference title of his coaching career.
Russell: The fun never ends for Tennessee, which is in the midst of a six-week stretch that also includes dates with Florida, LSU and Alabama. This is a must-win affair for the Vols against Georgia if they want to remain in contention in the SEC.
Vinny: Phil Fulmer has settled on Rick Clausen at quarterback. At least we think he has. Clausen played the entire game against Ole Miss last week. He was decent (18 for 35), but he'll have to improve on that performance this week.
Russell: Georgia, meanwhile, has cruised past a lightweight schedule while the SEC's other alpha dogs beat each other up on a weekly basis. The Bulldogs are less battle-weary, but they're also less battle-tested, and I'm not sure D.J. Shockley is prepared for the type of defense he'll see on Saturday.
Vinny: I have to admit that Shockley has been much better than I expected this year. But his life will be a lot easier if Danny Ware and Thomas Brown can move the ball against the Vols' stout run defense (67 yards per game). This should be a great match-up of strength against strength: Russ Tanner, Max Jean-Gilles and the veteran Bulldog offensive line against the Tennessee defensive front led by Parys Haralson and Jesse Mahelona.
Russell: For Tennessee's sake, I really hope Erik Ainge never even puts the helmet on Saturday. This team just seems to play better in front of Clausen. I'm not expecting an onslaught of points out of the offense, but 17 might be enough to win. I think they get it done by at least a field goal. I'll take Tennessee.
Vinny: Agreed. I think the Vols have an advantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Tennessee wins by a couple scores.
Russell: Texas A&M hasn't been heard from since its season-opening loss at Clemson, and results like last week's overtime win over Baylor really aren't helping matters. If Dennis Franchione wants to get his program out of the witness protection program, he needs to put some impressive wins together, starting this week in Boulder.
Vinny: Playing SMU, Texas State and Baylor in consecutive weeks will definitely get your team off the national radar. What, the local prison was unavailable for a game?
Russell: Somewhere, Mike Leach is taking notes. This was supposed to be the year that Franchione's Aggies broke out and became a contender in the Big XII South, but it hasn't happened. Still, at 3-1, A&M could challenge Texas in the South if the Aggies start putting things together.
Vinny: Reggie McNeal has not been sharp for the Aggies, barely completing half his passes. But he's still a threat to run (averaging 9.7 yards per carry). This is a big-play offense for A&M, but the defense has been susceptible to the big play as well. The Aggies yielded 31 points to the Fightin' Armadillos of Texas State.
Russell: Colorado is as vanilla as those all-white road uniforms they wear on the road -- the Buffs don't do anything particularly well, nor particularly poorly. Their best asset is probably QB Joel Klatt, who has to like his chances against A&M's pass defense. He'll make some big plays down the field. I like CU to cover at home.
Vinny: I think McNeal gets back on track with his passing and the Aggies cover in a track meet.
Russell: This week's Regional Special -- yes, that's the new name for the off-the-beaten-path game of the week -- takes us to Legion Field, where Alabama-Birmingham hosts SMU. What's in a name? I'm probably not the best guy to ask. I once nearly packed up and moved to Columbus, Ohio of all places to work for a company called "Wow!" No -- not the GI-coma inducing fake potato chip people, either. The only possible explanation I can think of for even considering that job was that it would have put me within driving distance of Michigan Stadium.
Vinny: Um, I really don't have anything to add to that.
Russell: See, these picks are driving me insane. But I digress. If you have the chance to catch UAB on TV this year, do so, because there's nothing quite so entertaining as a chubby QB. In the Pillsbury Throw Boy tradition of Kentucky's Jared Lorenzen comes UAB quarterback Darrel Hackney, a pretty effective passer in his own right.
Vinny: I already miss the Battleship Lorenzen -- great to see him make the G-men roster. As for UAB, Tennessee dodged a bullet (17-10) against the Blazers in the opener for both teams. UAB had the ball on the Tennessee 11-yard line with a couple minutes left and a chance to tie the game. Afterwards, Vols defenders were calling Hackney "Baby Daunte," as in Culpepper. He's not much of a threat to run, but he threw for over 3,000 yards and 26 TDs last year, with only 8 INTs.
Russell: Do you think Craig James and Eric Dickerson root for SMU these days? The Mustangs are the NCAA's ever-lasting poster child for the power of the death penalty, which apparently has been retired like OJ's number at USC. I'm not sure why SMU bothers to field a program these days. The Ponies are a C-USA doormat (despite a win over TCU), while UAB is a contender for the conference crown. I'll lay the big number on the big guy with the big arm. UAB rolls.
Vinny: No argument here. The Blazers cover.
Russell: That thud you heard last Saturday night about 10:30 p.m. was the sound of the Vandy bandwagon crashing after the Commodores fell at home to Middle Tennessee State, their first loss of the season. QB Jay Cutler led the 'Dores into position for the winning field goal, but poor clock management led to a rushed kick, which was blocked, in the 17-15 defeat.
Vinny: It certainly was curious why Bobby Johnson (is there another profession, aside from maybe RV sales, where guys named Bobby are the norm?) didn't spend Vandy's remaining timeout to get everyone on the same page for that kick.
Russell: LSU, meanwhile has its own problem with bandwagon jumpers after the Tigers' epic second-half meltdown against Tennessee two weeks ago Monday. LSU recovered somewhat to beat Mississippi State on Saturday, but the sting of the loss to the Vols will dog them all year -- as will questions about the performance of coach Les Miles down the stretch. Yes, you did see him frantically trying to call a timeout after a change of possession.
Vinny: Ah yes, another Michigan grad does us proud. I think we can scratch Les off the list of possible successors to Lloyd Carr. Regardless, I'm not sure anyone would want to leave a program as loaded as LSU for anything but the NFL.
Russell: The Vandy players were hearing all during their fast start how they could make a bowl without beating the heavyweights -- like LSU -- on their schedule. That kind of thinking sets in after a while, and it makes a team complacent. Maybe Cutler & Co. keep things close for a while, but the Tigers have too much talent. LSU covers.
Vinny: Yep, I just don't see the 'Dores having an answer for the likes of Joseph Addai and Skyler Green. Even if LSU is looking ahead to next week's match-up with Florida, I like the Tigers to win rather comfortably.
Russell: Cal's schedule so far this season might make Mike Leach blush, as the Bears have gone 5-0 against a group of opponents that has a combined four wins. Everyone assumes that Cal is once again going to give USC all it can handle later this season, but the Bears first must get past pesky UCLA, which is a surprising 4-0 after rallying to beat Washington last week.
Vinny: Cal lost left OT Andrew Cameron for the year (torn right ACL) last week in its 28-0 rout over Arizona. Scott Smith, who stepped in for two starts earlier this year when Cameron was out with a concussion, takes over. Even without Cameron, the Bears are strong along the offensive line with seniors Marvin Phillip and Ryan O'Callaghan.
Russell: At this rate, I don't think Jeff Tedford has to worry about producing another bust of an NFL QB, because I don't think Joseph Ayoob exactly leaves the scouts drooling. Despite a 28-0 blanking of Arizona last week, Ayoob failed to get the ball downfield at all, a necessary component of Tedford's passing offense. Maybe he should work on throwing the ball 70 yards through the uprights from his knees.
Vinny: Maurice Drew was held in check by Washington's defense last week (33 yards on 14 carries). But QB Drew Olson (29 of 44 for 287 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) led the Bruins' rally in the 4th quarter. Olson looks more accurate (69.7%) thus far in his senior season.
Russell: Is UCLA a legitimate threat to USC? It would be hard to say so after an ugly performance against the Huskies, both at least the men in baby blue came out with the win. The oddsmakers seem to think the Bruins have enough to beat Cal, but I'm not sure they can slow the two-headed rushing monster of Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, even if Ayoob struggles. Cal wins outright.
Vinny: Cal has an aggressive defense that has been able to apply pressure to the quarterback this year. But, given their creampuff schedule, we really don't know how good they are. I'm going with the known quantity (UCLA).
Russell: We all knew back in August that this was going to be one of the Big Ten games of the year, right? I mean, we all believed JoePa when he said he finally had a good team, right? Yeah, me neither.
Vinny: Penn State has put a lot of stock in its freshman receiving corps (Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood, plus two-way threat Justin King), but this is their first real test. They'll give up some yards, but Nate Salley & Co. can really lay the lumber on receivers over the middle.
Russell: Like everybody else, I didn't really pay much attention to Penn State until they absolutely hammered Minnesota at home last weekend. In and of itself, that's not so impressive, but you had to like the way the defense completely stuffed Laurence Maroney and the Gophers' running game. If they can do the same to the Buckeyes, they have an excellent chance to win.
Vinny: On the other side, the Buckeyes are the best in the nation against the run, so you would expect the game to be on Michael Robinson's shoulders. We'll see if he can put his Sara Lee (read: turnover) days behind him. Robinson will need to connect on a few of those patented PSU long balls down the left sideline to the young burners.
Russell: Ohio State's had an extra week to prepare for this game, and my guess is the players spent it finishing up their court-ordered community service, attending Andy Katzenmoyer's HIV awareness class (I'm sorry, was that out loud?), and, oh yeah, figuring out some ways to get Ted Ginn, Jr. the ball. He'll see it plenty, the Buckeyes' defense will dominate Robinson, and Ohio State wins by 10.
Vinny: This might be the first high-stakes game Penn State has played in three years, so this will be new territory for many of JoePa's crew. I also think the Buckeyes take care of business in this one.
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|West Virginia (-3) at Rutgers, Saturday||Rutgers||West Virginia|
|Oklahoma (+14) vs. #2 Texas||Texas||Oklahoma|
|#5 Georgia (+3) at #8 Tennessee||Tennessee||Tennessee|
|Texas A&M (+3.5) at Colorado||Texas A&M||Colorado|
|SMU (+21) at UAB||UAB||UAB|
|#11 LSU (-14.5) at Vanderbilt||LSU||LSU|
|#10 Cal (+2) at #20 UCLA||UCLA||Cal|
|#6 Ohio State (-3) at #16 Penn State||Ohio State||Ohio State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Vinny||4-4 (1-0)||16-23-1 (1-4)|
|Russell||2-6 (1-0)||12-27-1 (3-2)|
106 comments, Last at 14 Oct 2005, 11:31am by Sid