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 2006
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: So if last week, with seven games between ranked teams, was "Separation Saturday," "Showdown Saturday," or " Footballpocalypse" as our friends at EDSBS dubbed it, what does that make this week'? "Skip It Saturday?" Or maybe "Shop With Your Wife Saturday?" Gordon Gekko would call this week's schedule "a dog with fleas."
Vinny: Well, after my 1-7 record last week, I think Gekko would agree that I'm "walking around blind without a cane." Nice phone, Gordo.
Russell: I'm just glad I'll be making the roadie to the Big House this week. Something tells me I won't feel like I'm missing much if I spend the Wisconsin-Michigan postgame at Casa Dominick's instead of BW3.
Vinny: I'll probably be entertaining my parents all weekend out here on the West Coast. Odds that my mom will force me to sit through back-to-back episodes of the Suze Orman Show? 3-to-2. I'm just praying that TNT doesn't have "Pretty Woman" in the heavy rotation.
Russell: Vin, I know you say you can't make the trip, but I won't believe until the weekend has actually passed without you showing up. You can't really resist the siren call of the Big House, can you? What if I told you the band was going to play another tribute to Phil Collins at halftime? Would that sweeten the pot for you?
Vinny: I'm still haunted by the Michigan Marching Band's rendition of "Sussudio". I don't even want to talk about it.
Russell: These are two second-tier Big Ten clubs with a combined record of 5-1, yet the best win between them was Purdue's overtime win over Miami of Ohio, a team that got crushed at home by Northwestern who then got crushed at home by ... New Hampshire. Did you follow that, Vin?
Vinny: Not really.
Russell: At least Glen Mason stepped up his non-conference schedule a bit this year, taking it on the chin at Cal two weeks ago. Something tells me Mason followed that game with a call to the AD demanding to get Wofford on the schedule for next year. Purdue, meanwhile, is the worst 3-0 team in America after struggling at times in all three games. The Boilermakers have given up over 1,200 yards on defense already this year.
Vinny: Joe Tiller did shake up his staff in the off-season, but that was mostly on the offensive side of the ball. And it doesn't get any easier after this week for the Boilers, with trips to Notre Dame and Iowa up next.
Russell: Minnesota is finally letting quarterback Bryan Cupito throw downfield a bit this year, adding a nice dimension to its offense. I guess you have to do that when you don't have a pair of NFL-caliber tailbacks in the backfield. Purdue's defense is hideous, and QB Curtis Painter is an interception machine. I like the Gophers on the road.
Vinny: That may be a little harsh on Painter -- he's only a sophomore and he's starting to come around after getting thrown into the fire last year for Brandon Kirsch. But I like Minnesota as well.
Russell: I guess there are a couple of decent games on the schedule after all. This game was a classic last season, as Tamba Hali and the Penn State defense put the lockdown on Ohio State in Happy Valley in a win that propelled the Nittany Lions to the Orange Bowl. Of course, Hali is now wearing a Kansas City Chiefs jersey, but it's quarterback Michael Robinson whose loss is being felt more acutely in Happy Valley.
Vinny: I'm not sure that Galen Hall has noticed that Robinson is gone -- he could do a better job of adjusting the offense to Anthony Morelli's drop-back passing game. Running back Tony Hunt needs to be a factor for four quarters for the Nits to have any chance.
Russell: Morelli wasn't exactly up to the task in his first road test, a blowout loss at South Bend two weeks ago. Based on the relative strengths of Notre Dame's and Ohio State's defense, methinks the 'Shoe could be a house of horrors for Mr. Morelli.
Vinny: Meanwhile, with everyone jumping off the Brady Quinn bandwagon, maybe more people are noticing that the best passer in the country right now is Troy Smith. Yes, that's passer -- he's not running much as of yet, but he hasn't had to since he's completing about 70 percent of his passes. It's nice to have Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez, yes. But Smith is that good. Will someone please give this guy some more money before November rolls around?
Russell: You stay classy, Vin. Ohio State snapped out of its post-Texas hangover to bury Cincinnati in the fourth quarter last week. They'll be ready from the opening kick this time. I don't like JoePa's chances of avoiding another blowout here. Ohio State is the pick.
Vinny: Paul Posluszny says he's back to full speed physically after tearing up his knee in the Orange Bowl, but learning middle linebacker has slowed him down some. Ohio State linebacker Jim "Road Warrior" Laurinaitis is picking up where he left off last year as a superb substitute for Bobby Carpenter. The Buckeyes coast to an easy cover. This is my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Russell: I know I bring this up every time we talk about Arkansas, but do you think Houston Nutt wants to rethink the decision to turn down $2 million a year from Nebraska? It's two years later, and the guy is just hanging on at Arkansas, and I don't think anyone's calling with that kind of job offer anytime soon.
Vinny: It's right out of Saturday Night Live's old "Bad Idea Jeans" commercials. Of course, nothing will ever top the all-time classic: "Normally I wear protection, but then I thought, 'When am I gonna make it back to Haiti?'"
Russell: Nutt did manage to recruit quarterback Mitch Mustain, however, and the true freshman looks like he'll deliver on his considerable promise. After beginning the year on the bench, he's now starting and he carved up Vanderbilt for three touchdowns last week.
Vinny: Well, it was Vandy, although Mel Kiper Jr. does love 'dores linebacker Jonathan Goff, who's been all over the field when I've seen him play this year. Mustain will be aided by the very capable Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the backfield.
Russell: Bad news for Arkansas in last week's narrow win over the Commodores: The Hogs were gashed on the ground, not a good sign with Kenneth Darby and Alabama coming to town. I think Alabama finds a way to win on the road here.
Vinny: Alabama really likes to work its fullbacks, Le'Ron McClain and Tim Castille, into the offense; they've accounted for three touchdowns already this season. This is the first road start for Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson. I like the Hogs here.
Russell: Both these teams began the season with hopes of challenging USC for Pac-10 supremacy, but I'm not sure either is in the Trojans' league right now. Cal has rebounded from the Tennessee debacle with a pair of wins, and now gets a balanced Arizona State team in its conference opener.
Vinny: And both of these teams are coming off of not-so-impressive wins over I-AA teams: Cal over Portland State, and Arizona State over ... Colorado ... Well, you get the idea.
Russell: Who are you, Gary Barnett? After the controversial way in which he got the starting job, ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter has been just fine, and he's been complemented by a defense that leads the nation with 18 sacks.
Vinny: Considering Carpenter led the nation in passing efficiency last year, and is 7-1 as a starter, maybe he has been playing below his own high standards. But I think Dirk Koetter could make Joey Harrington into a Pro Bowler.
Russell: Arizona State needs to get the pash rush working against Cal QB Nate Longshore, who crumbled under pressure in Knoxville. Of course, pass rush won't matter if Marshawn Lynch keeps the Bears in second-and-short all day. The line's a touch high, but I still have to stick with Cal at home.
Vinny: The Sun Devils are getting some ink for their rush defense, but given their creampuff schedule, that's just a mirage. Still, this could end up being the best offense Koetter has had. Arizona State wins outright.
Russell: Vin, do you think Ty Willingham felt any satisfaction at watching what happened to Notre Dame last week? I wouldn't hold it against him if he did; he certainly has more of a right to feel that way than Barnett, who chose to kick the Buffs when they were down.
Vinny: I'm sure Ty didn't mind hearing that the genius who succeeded him was actually fallible. But I doubt he would admit that to anyone.
Russell: Could it be that Willingham is actually beginning to turn things around at U-Dub? The Huskies were competitive against Oklahoma, and last week edged Fresno State, 21-20, on a blocked extra point in the final minutes to improve to 2-1. Quarterback Isaiah Stanback has some ability, and if he takes care of the ball, Washington has a shot in this one.
Vinny: The Bruins haven't been tested at all though, with wins over mighty Rice and Utah to date. But they are coming off a bye week, which has become something of a rarity with teams scrambling to schedule 12 games this year. I'd be curious to see if major conference teams coming off a bye week struggled or thrived.
Russell: Nobody expected much out of UCLA this season after they lost running back Maurice Jones-Drew and quarterback Drew Olsen, but few people remember that new QB Ben Olson was very highly touted coming out of high school before taking a two-year Mormon mission and transferring from BYU. The Bruins have shown the ability to both pass and run in their first two wins, but I like what I've seen from Washington so far. The Huskies get the home win.
Vinny: Agreed. Washington looks noticeably better this year. We'll see if Husky Stadium can return to its days of one of the biggest home field advantages in football. I'll take Washington and the points.
Russell: Is Boston College any good? They've authored back-to-back OT wins over Clemson and BYU, both at home, the last two weeks. Not exactly statement wins, although the Clemson victory may yet turn out to be one. Still, the Eagles are finding a way to get things done.
Vinny: Eagles quarterback Matt Ryan has been cool under fire this season, although he did toss his first picks of the season against BYU.
Russell: There's no such mystery surrounding N.C. State. The Wolfpack are awful, turning Chuck "Chest" Amato into Dead Coach Walking in Raleigh. Worse yet, Amato is getting desperate as he gets closer to the end of the line, offering up a string of excuses for his team's pitiful play.
Vinny: Amato is hoping that a switch in quarterbacks (Matt Stone sits, Daniel Evans starts) will fire up an offense averaging under 270 yards and 19 points during a less-than-impressive non-conference slate.
Russell: You wonder if a team backed into a corner like N.C. State will come out fighting. I don't see it. The Wolfpack look like they've already quit on the season. Boston College rolls, and I'm making this my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Vinny: Yep, this could get ugly. Tom O'Brien's squad finally gets a laugher -- the Eagles waltz to a win.
Russell: Notre Dame's M.O. against teams from Michigan in recent years has been to rise up against the Wolverines and then get humbled by the Spartans, who've owned the Irish like nobody else the last few seasons. Last year's game featured a huge comeback by Notre Dame to force overtime, where Michigan State won, then planted its flag on the Notre Dame Stadium turf. You can bet Charlie Weis has replayed that clip a few times this week.
Vinny: Definitely, but you have to wonder if playing Penn State and Michigan back-to-back will leave the Irish with not much left in the tank. The Spartans have usually benefited from playing Notre Dame at this point in the schedule -- MSU's first big game of the season and Notre Dame's second or third.
Russell: It's a case of here we go again for the Spartans, who've looked great in the early season as they typically do. Drew Stanton has been terrific and now gets a chance to author a statement performance against the one-time presumed Heisman winner Brady Quinn. There are more than a few people who think Stanton might be the better pro prospect. Quinn needs to do something big, lest this become his highlight reel:
Hat Tip: mgoblog
Vinny: Who's classy now? Both teams have made a concerted effort to beef up their lackluster defenses of a year ago. The Irish look somewhat better, especially with the play of defensive tackle Derek Landri, but their secondary was torched by Mario Manningham early and often last week. That has to make John L. Smith even more giddy than usual.
Russell: Publicly, Weis took the blame for last week's debacle against Michigan, but I'm guessing that hasn't exactly been the message in practice this week. Notre Dame needs to respond, and in a big way, if it's to be taken seriously for a BCS bid this season. First the Irish will have to figure out how to stop the pass with their substandard (and that's being kind) corners. Weis is too good a coach to have his team not show up two weeks in a row. The Irish take care of business in East Lansing.
Vinny: I would normally think that the Irish would be determined to bounce back in a big way. But this is a night game on the road against their el guapo. And they're giving points. I think Michigan State covers in a barnburner.
Russell: Normally, Hawaii is roadkill whenever it ventures to the mainland, but the Warriors hung tough at Alabama to open the season. Even better news: the Don't Call Them the Rainbows actually showed a balanced offense against UNLV last week, rushing for over 200 yards out of the run-and-shoot, and Jerry Glanville's defense dominated the Runnin' Rebels. Do you think Glanville wears the big ol' belt buckle and lei combo on the Hawaii sidelines? I need to see visual evidence of this.
Vinny: I'm sure of it. For some reason, Glanville never bothered me. I actually found him strangely amusing, kind of the way that listening to Bill Walton cracks me up ... I need help.
Russell: No comment. Boise State meanwhile, is up to its old tricks on the Smurf Turf. After having a lengthy home wining streak snapped in the bowl game loss to Boston College last season, the Broncos have won a pair of home games by an 87-14 count this year. Still, there's cause for concern. Quarterback Jared Zabransky hasn't been the same player since his turnover festival at Georgia last year, and Boise was forced to gut out a 17-10 win at Wyoming last week.
Vinny: When Dan Hawkins bolted for Boulder, offensive coordinator Chris Peterson was elevated to the head job. And the Broncos haven't missed a beat.
Russell: I still don't like Hawaii playing in the lower 48. Boise running back Ian Johnson will have a big day, and the Broncos' defense will make things miserable for Hawaii QB Colt Brennan. Boise State wins big.
Vinny: Agreed, I like the Broncos as well.
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||Vinny Says||Russell Says|
|Penn State||+16||Ohio State||Ohio State*||Ohio State|
|Arizona State||+7.5||California||Arizona State||California|
|Boston College||-6.5||North Carolina State||Boston College||Boston College*|
|Notre Dame||-3.5||Michigan State||Michigan State||Notre Dame|
|Hawaii||+15.5||Boise State||Boise State||Boise State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
176 comments, Last at 24 Sep 2006, 2:28am by Travis