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?
01 Sep 2005
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
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Russell: Welcome to season two of Seventh Day Adventure, your guide to the college games and lines each weekend. And remember, just because we're wrong 54% of the time, that also means we're right 46% of the time!
Vinny: I only wish I was half as successful at my day job. Kidding, of course.
Russell: Of course. The NFL has once again abandoned Labor Day weekend so that the NCAA's student-athletes can present a five-day football festival, starting Thursday night, Sept. 1 (Steve Spurrier's debut as South Carolina head coach) and continuing right through Monday night (Miami at Florida State).
Vinny: Willie Williams out past 10 p.m.? Yikes. That's got NC-17 written all over it.
Russell: Let's get to it!
Russell: Barry Alvarez could be in for a nasty surprise in his final season opener as the Badgers welcome Omar Jacobs and Bowling Green to Mad-town. Alvarez is stepping down after this season to concentrate on his duties as Wisconsin's athletic director, but he may want to get an early start on his post-coaching career after this game.
Vinny: Jacobs had some absolutely sick passing numbers last year: 4,002 yards, 41 TDs and only 4 INTs. Bowling Green is breaking in new starters on the right side of the offensive line. But tailback P.J. Pope (15 TDs, 6.2 yards per carry in 2004) returns, as do receivers Charles Sharon (1,070 yards, 15 TDs) and Steve Sanders (984 yards, 8 TDs, plus his great work on 90210: "Marriage, black jack, it's all a crap shoot.").
Russell: On the flip side, when Big Ten teams take on the MAC, one advantage they can usually count on is the matchup of their O-line vs. the MAC team's D-line. Expect the Badgers to try to pound the running game with Colorado transfer Brian Calhoun and wear down the Bowling Green defense, keeping Jacobs on the sidelines. After all, Wisconsin led the Big Ten in time of possession last year. If the rushing attack can't carry the load, QB John Stocco will need to make some plays down the field.
Vinny: When teams forced Stocco to beat them last year, he came apart like a cheap suit. I doubt the Falcons can shut down the Badger running game, but I think BG will keep the game close enough to cover. They won't get intimidated by the environment at Camp Randall. This is a team that has competed in places like Norman (losing 24-40 in 2004), Columbus (losing 17-24 in 2003) and West Lafayette (winning 27-26 in 2003).
Russell: Wisconsin will be breaking in a new defensive line, something that's not exactly advisable against a passer of Jacobs's caliber. I like the Falcons to win outright on the road.
Russell: What would ordinarily be a ho-hum game, especially on a Notre Dame schedule that includes three of the preseason top four teams in the country (USC, Tennessee, and Michigan) is anything but, as both programs are breaking in new coaches. Heck, Pittsburgh is even breaking in new uniforms and a return to the "Pitt" nickname that former coach Walt Harris distanced himself from.
Vinny: Harris distanced himself all the way to Stanford this year. Dave Wannstedt should find that his "rah-rah" coaching style goes over better in the college ranks. It certainly has for Pete Carroll. Meanwhile, Charlie Weis fashions himself as a cross between Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. I don't know what that is, but it doesn't sound pleasant, or even advisable.
Russell: Weis and Wannstedt certainly know each other from their NFL days, when Wannstedt's Dolphins took on Weis's Patriots twice a year. Wannstedt seems to be settling into the college game nicely and has already scored some recruiting coups. I think he could be very successful, especially in the watered-down Big East.
Vinny: Agreed, provided Wanny can lock down the top-notch western Pennsylvania talent that usually flows towards State College or elsewhere (Morgantown, Ann Arbor, etc.). I'm sure his moustache could help with that. By the way, I've decided that Wanny looks like a young Tony Orlando.
Russell: You can't convince me Wanny and Bill Cowher aren't related, and now they coach teams that share the same stadium. What are the odds? Vin, I don't know about you, but I'm terrified of Weis at Notre Dame. I think they may have finally hired the right guy, and more importantly, I think the administration has had enough of the losing and is willing to support the program in the way it needs to be supported. That means you won't hear about Weis not being able to get the recruits he wants through admissions, and you also won't see too many schedules like this year's monster slate. If Notre Dame wants to compete for national titles, they simply can't play this kind of schedule, and Weis knows it. NBC, get ready to promote a few matchups with the Rutgers and Louisiana-Monroes of the world.
Vinny: As a Michigan guy, I'm not terrified of Weis, but I probably should be. Maybe it's because of his striking resemblance to Rodney Dangerfield. You think he walks around practice pointing to Burt Young while telling his players, "I never get physical. I just get upset. And when I get upset, HE gets physical!"? Or that he walks into meet-and-greets with Irish boosters shouting, "I hear this place is restricted Wang, so don't tell â€˜em you're Jewish, okay?"?
Russell: Um ... anyway, I expect Notre Dame to scare the living daylights out of plenty of teams this year. You certainly know they'll be prepared as well as their opponents. They're also going to knock off at least one really good team (let's hope it's not next week against you-know-who). But I like Pitt at home in this one. I'll lay the Figgie with Tyler "I only drop F-bombs after beating ND" Palko.
Vinny: I'm going with another road dog here. All the returning starters on the Irish offense, combined with Weis' alleged genius, should keep ND in this game enough to cover.
Russell: Boise State ventures far from the Kryptonite-like powers of the Smurf Turf in an effort to build on the respect for the program they earned in last year's 11-1 campaign, a season that ended with a narrow Liberty Bowl loss to once-beaten Louisville.
Vinny: All the offense in that one made it the third most entertaining bowl game last year, behind Iowa-LSU (Capital One Bowl) and Texas-Michigan (Rose Bowl). Incidentally, that was the first time Boise State lost on either ESPN or ESPN2, dropping its record to 15-1 in such games. Dan Hawkins's squad has also scored more points than anyone else going back to the 2000 season.
Russell: Georgia is replacing a lot of talent, with QB David Greene and defensive stalwarts David Pollack and Thomas Davis off to the NFL. Plenty of blue-chippers remain, but the Georgia defense will have its hands full with slippery Boise State QB Jared Zabransky.
Vinny: Yep, the thing about Zabransky is he's just as dangerous running the ball (13 TDs last year) as throwing it (16 TDs). In fact, while you would think all those wacky WAC teams are pass happy, the Broncos scored 49 rushing TDs last year to only 18 through the air. Their offense could be just as good this year.
Russell: Can D.J. Shockley be this team's Tee Martin? If he can, Georgia has a chance to be in the national title hunt. I've never been a big Georgia guy. Personally, I think Mark Richt is a candidate for the "does less with more" label that Lloyd Carr is always getting hit with. Still, I like the 'Dawgs to put away Boise in the second half by pounding the ball behind Max Jean-Giles. Georgia covers.
Vinny: I'm not a Shockley fan, but I agree that Georgia RBs Thomas Brown and Danny Ware should have big days in this one. The 'Dawgs win by a couple touchdowns.
Russell: Auburn is one of the nation's more interesting teams. Everyone knows the Tigers lost a ton of talent off last year's 13-0 squad, including four first-round picks in the 2005 NFL draft. But the defense should still be a monster behind new coordinator David Gibbs. If highly touted QB Brandon Cox doesn't screw things up, Auburn will win plenty of games this fall.
Vinny: It wasn't as good as Auburn's, but the Jackets had very good defense last year, finishing 12th in the nation in total defense. They have returning all-conference honorees at defensive end (Eric Henderson), linebacker (Gerris Wilkerson) and safety (Chris Reis). Plus, QB Reggie Ball returns with WR Calvin Johnson and RB P.J. Daniels.
Russell: There sure seems to be some buzz about the Yellow Jackets (sorry, couldn't resist) this fall, but I'm not buying in. I'm not quite sure how Chan Gailey still has his job, and I'm guessing he won't if the Jackets disappoint. I think the number's too low. I like Auburn to cover at home, provided Katrina didn't mess up the Tigers' preparation too much.
Vinny: I think Auburn's front seven will be a lot for Tech's patchwork offensive line to handle. Still, Cox will be under plenty of pressure under the lights at home in his debut, and I think Ball will make enough positive plays to keep Tech in this one. The Jackets cover.
Russell: Ahh, finally a home underdog to consider. You know how I love those home 'dogs.
Vinny: As much as I love those new Nacho Cheese-flavored Bugels® that are now featured prominently in the vending machine down the hall from me at work?
Russell: Well, almost. Boston College is a team loaded with sleeper potential in the newly reconfigured, 12-team ACC. There are huge question marks surrounding most of the teams in the Coastal division, especially with Florida State. If things break right, BC could find itself playing for the ACC championship in Jacksonville on Dec. 3.
Vinny: No sale. Tom O'Brien has BC playing solid football year in and year out, but I doubt he'll ever get the Eagles to a conference title. Maybe it's the lack of talent at skill positions, or just O'Brien's conservative nature, but they can't seem to break big offensive plays when they need them. Especially when they fall behind in games.
Russell: Provo used to be a feared road trip for visiting non-conference teams (just ask Miami in 1990), but no so much any more. The Cougars should be improved, but I like DE Mathias Kiwanuka (20+ sacks over the past two seasons) and the Eagles to cover on the road.
Vinny: BYU is undefeated in home openers over the past four seasons, but they're 0-10 against ranked opponents since 1999. Granted pre-season rankings don't mean much, but that's still an eye-opener. None of that happened under the watch of first year BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. Is that really his name? Sounds like the name of a bully at a chess camp. Anyways, I'm also going with the Eagles to cover. Senior QB Quinton Porter should be able to direct a methodical BC attack behind a veteran offensive line.
Russell: Yet another home 'dog to ponder. Texas A&M is high on everyone's list of sleeper teams this season, mostly because of potential Heisman QB Reggie McNeal. The Aggies improved to 7-5 in their second season under Dennis Franchione, getting ambushed at Utah in the opener, but putting a major scare into Oklahoma by the end of the season. Of course, then they got crushed by Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. Still, big things are expected in year three, which also means it's probably time for "Mr. Loyalty," Franchione, to start looking for another job.
Vinny: I'm sure Bobby "Century 21" Petrino can recommend a realtor. The Aggies hammered Clemson 27-6 in College Station last year. And this is a much more experienced Aggies team so, unlike last year, they should be ready for a road test in the opener. Plus, Clemson isn't anywhere near as good Utah was last season.
Russell: Agreed. In fact, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden probably should think about getting the resume in order. A win over daddy's Seminoles in an otherwise down year probably won't be enough to save him this time. He has to hope that QB Charlie Whitehurst can forget all about last season (17 INTs, 7 TDs) and recapture his 2003 form.
Vinny: Bowden has voiced concerns over whether the Tigers smallish defensive front will be bullied by the Aggies' offensive linemen, notably LT Jami Hightower (355 pounds) and RG Aldo de la Garza (324 pounds). Clemson must replace five starters on defense, including ACC Defensive Player of the Year LeRoy Hill. Bowden has also installed new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
Russell: I like the Aggies to cover on the road. I'm surprised the number is this low. In fact, I'm going to make this my first Fred Edelstein lock of the new season.
Vinny: I also like the Aggies to cover here.
Russell: The home 'dogs are coming fast and furious now as the Marcus Vick Show, Mach 2 ("We hope you enjoy our new direction!") takes flight against the Wolfpack in Raleigh.
Vinny: This is one of those strange conference games disguised as a mere opener. Led by DE Darryl Tapp (16.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks in 2004) and CB Jimmy Williams (5 INTs and 5.5 TFLs), the Hokie defense returns most of its starters from a unit that allowed just 12.8 points per game (2nd in the nation).
Russell: Chuck Amato, who's known as an offensive wizard, had a team that stunk it up on offense last year. Could it be that all the offensive coordinators who've departed Raleigh in recent years have taken a toll? The much-traveled Marc Trestman will be the Pack's fourth offensive coordinator in six years.
Vinny: Quite possible. The Wolfpack also lost defensive coordinator Reggie Herring in the offseason. Under Herring, N.C. State finished first in the nation in total defense last year. He left behind DEs Mario Williams (15 TFLs, 6 sacks) and Manny Wilson (7 sacks). There should be plenty of NFL scouts scouring this game tape for defensive prospects.
Russell: I'm very tempted to take N.C. State and the points at home, but I get the sneaking suspicion that Team Beamer Ball will come up with a big special teams play to seal the deal. VaTech covers.
Vinny: I'm not convinced that the Pack will be able to move the ball against the Hokies, or against anyone else for that matter. I like the Hokies to win big. This is my Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week (cue the music).
Russell: We don't have any music.
Russell: Vin, what in the wide world of sports is going on in Tallahassee? And most importantly, how is Wyatt Sexton's Lyme disease?
Vinny: Sexton will sit out the season while being treated for the disease, which is obviously no laughing matter. Meanwhile, star CB Antonio Cromartie (torn ACL) and DT Clifton Dickson (academics) are out for the season. And two starting linebackers, Ernie Sims and A.J. Nicholson, were arrested and charged with misdemeanors but won't miss any games while their cases are pending.
Russell: I just don't know what direction FSU is headed these days. Part of me thinks Papa Bowden is headed for a Joe Paterno-like slide.
Vinny: If The Visor was still in Gainesville instead of over at South Carolina, we would have heard plenty of one-liners directed Bowden's way this offseason. Drew Weatherford has been named FSU's starting QB after Xavier Lee missed some recent practices with a sore shoulder. Both Weatherford and Lee are redshirt freshmen. Look for 'Noles RB Leon Washington to carry the ball early and often against the 'Canes.
Russell: Miami is loaded as usual, but with question marks at QB (sophomore Kyle Wright gets the nod there). Still, FSU doesn't have an athlete the caliber of Miami CB/WR/KR Devin Hester. I think he'll be the difference-maker. Miami covers on the road.
Vinny: Yep, even though it's a rivalry game and they have the home field, I just don't see the 'Noles keeping this close. With 10 starters back on defense and a flock of game breakers on offense, Miami coasts in a laugher. And Willie Williams is on his best behavior.
(College fans, make sure you also check out the Confessions of a Football Junkie 2005 NCAA preview.)
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" in bold)
|Game||Vinny says||Russell says|
|Bowling Green (+2.5) at Wisconsin||Bowling Green||Bowling Green|
|Notre Dame (+3) at #23 Pitt||Notre Dame||Pitt|
|#18 Boise State (+7) at #13 Georgia||Georgia||Georgia|
|Georgia Tech (+7) at #16 Auburn||Georgia Tech||Auburn|
|#22 Boston College (-3.5) at BYU||Boston College||Boston College|
|#17 Texas A&M (-1.5) at Clemson||Texas A&M||Texas A&M|
|#8 Virginia Tech (-5) at N.C. State||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech|
|#9 Miami (Fla.) (-3) at #14 Florida State||Miami||Miami|
115 comments, Last at 09 Sep 2005, 4:02pm by CaffeineMan