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.
02 Nov 2006
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: The college football season has been in a bit of a lull for what seems like a few weeks, but this is the week things start to get interesting with West Virginia-Louisville on Thursday night. Next week we get Louisville-Rutgers, then Football Armageddon in two weeks, etc., etc.
Vinny: Of course, the biggest event of the season took place during last week's slumberfest: Oregon State's upset of USC. So you never know what's lurking out there. Like the crazy guy on the train who's always singing "Voices Carry" by 'Til Tuesday.
Russell: Hey, I have that on my iPod. Still, without the killer slate last Saturday, I cleaned my basement. This week, I actually volunteered to do something social that doesn't involve football on Saturday afternoon. Just laying the foundation for the five-star, couch potato Saturdays to come, Vin.
Vinny: I've got a wedding in Chicago at 2 p.m. CST. I will give the groom his due: he went out of his way to schedule his wedding on Michigan's bye week. But with the NCAA allowing 12 games this year, Ball State was added to the Wolverines' slate this week. I'll live.
Russell: Good luck finding that one on ESPNU anyway. Time for a statistical check. This being FO, there's an Excel sheet involved.
Vinny: What are the odds? Wait, don't answer that.
Russell: It was another decent week for both of us last week as we each went 5-3. It might not sound impressive, but if you do that every time out at the sports book, you'll be doing OK. I hold a one-game lead in the overall standings, but you're destroying me in the Fred Edelstein picks, 7-2 vs. my 4-5. When we agree, we're 28-19-0 on the year, including 3-1 on Edelstein locks. When we disagree, I've got the slight edge, winning 13 of 25 games. Most impressive stat? You've been .500 or better six times in nine weeks and I've done so seven times. Steady, not spectacular. I'll take it.
Vinny: You sound like Clark Griswold before you strap Aunt Edna to the roof: It's not as if it's going to rain or something.
Russell: Well Vin, we're on a quest. A quest for fun.
Russell: The Big East's big three round-robin finally kicks off this week as West Virginia takes on Louisville at Papa John's Stadium. Next week, Louiville faces Rutgers, and West Virginia gets its crack at the Scarlet Knights on December 2. After those three games, we'll know if any of these teams is truly a national championship contender.
Vinny: Interesting that John L. Smith got canned on the eve of this matchup. I'm sure Louisville A.D. Tom Jurich looks back at the surreal 2002 GMAC Bowl -- when news of Smith's hiring at Michigan State broke during the game and Jurich held a press conference to discuss it at halftime -- as one of the best things that ever happened. And Bobby Petrino has even taken all of his realtors off his speed dial (although I still think he hid one of them under "poison control").
Russell: Ahh, JohnEl. We're gonna miss you. Don't worry, the award remains named in your honor, at least until someone else comes along and slaps themselves with any regularity. Meanwhile, USC's loss last week opened the door for either of these teams to reach the BCS title game if they run the table. Some people think that only applies to West Virginia, but Louisville is up to fifth in the BCS and its strength of schedule is about to go way up. I think the Cards are a virtual shoo-in at 12-0 as well.
Vinny: The Cardinals have a blitz-happy defense that leads the nation in sacks (defensive tackle Amobi Okeye has racked up 10). And you wouldn't think it, but these are two of the top 10 scoring defenses in the country. Granted, their unimposing schedules have fattened up their statistics.
Russell: The Louisville offense hasn't been as explosive lately. They're missing Michael Bush at tailback, and Brian Brohm has been slow to regain his form following a hand injury. Even with Brohm back, Louisville has been scraping by teams it should bury. I get the feeling that Steve Slaton, Pat White, and Co. are going to expose this Cardinals team as not nearly as good as the past two editions. I love West Virginia getting points. The Morgantown fire department should have plenty of couches to extinguish Thursday night. I'm taking West Virginia. And for the record, I feel compelled to mention the best blog name ever
Vinny: These days, teams that are so run-oriented are rarely taken seriously. West Virginia notched big wins in barnburners against Louisville and Georgia last year. They know they're good. Louisville, meanwhile, is like the school bully who's been taking milk money from the A/V Club all year but is afraid to go out for the football team. The Mountaineers win going away.
Russell: Hey, it's the Big 12 North Championship Game! Not officially, but it might as well be, as the winner of this one will almost certainly take on Texas in the conference title game in December. Yes, winning the Big 12 North is kind of like winning the National League (wait, bad analogy). It's kind of like winning the NFC these days -- you gain the right to be cannon fodder for the South champ.
Vinny: Seriously, with Kansas State's demise, there really isn't much drama to the Big 12 title games anymore. Texas? Crown their ass!
Russell: They are who we thought they werd. Both teams are coming off bad losses. Nebraska has dropped two straight, and Missouri two of its last three after a 6-0 start. Does anybody want to win this game?
Vinny: Probably! The Tigers have lost in their last 14 appearances in Lincoln. Make it 15.
Russell: Missouri fell apart against Oklahoma last week, announcing loud and clear that it's not ready to win a big game. Nebraska may not be "back," but the Huskers have played a couple of big games this year and nearly knocked off Texas two weeks ago. It's tough to pick against them at home. I'm not crazy about laying a full touchdown, but I just don't trust Mizzou on the road. Nebraska is the pick.
Vinny: Nebraska's Brandon Jackson (184 rushing yards last week in the loss to Oklahoma State) has emerged from a crowded backfield to be the main man. He had to be drooling while he watched the tape of Oklahoma's Allen Patrick carry the ball 35 times against Mizzou. I like Nebraska to cover at home.
Russell: With the Big Ten having reverted to "big two, little nine" (and yes, I realize how ridiculous the math in that sentence sounds) mode, Wisconsin is as far under the radar as any one-loss team in America. But the Badgers have won five straight since falling at Michigan, pounding the ball with their latest ginormous tailback and unleashing a nasty defense.
Vinny: Wisconsin rookie coach Bret Bielema has shown an aggressiveness that's unsettling after years of Barry Alvarez's conservatism. And fittingly, his goofy smile and the ever-present sideline shades add up to pure cheese. Still, you can't argue with his results so far.
Russell: Freshman running back P.J. Hill was dinged up in last week's come-from-behind win over Illinois, and could be limited in this game if he plays at all. That puts the game on John Stocco's shoulders -- never a good thing. Then again, Stocco did lead the comeback against the Illini and follows in a long line of Wisconsin QBs who generally look like they can't play, yet turn out to be pretty effective college signal-callers. Brooks Bollinger anyone?
Vinny: Frankly, after Troy Smith and Chad Henne, Stocco might be the next-most reliable quarterback in the conference right now. He earned a badge of courage in this contest last year, a 35-14 PSU victory, when he was sacked nine times. He looked like a body pillow for Tamba Hali. But Stocco appeared to be one of the few Badgers who didn't quit in the fourth quarter.
Russell: Penn State has a pretty nasty defense of its own, especially as Paul Posluszny has returned to full health. The Lions should be able to limit the straight-ahead rushing attack of Wisconsin. Still, in a matchup of quality defenses, I have to go to the quarterbacks. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Stocco v. Anthony Morelli in a big game is a no-brainer for me. I'm taking Wisconsin.
Vinny: With or without Hill, it should be a good matchup between Joe Thomas and the Badgers offensive line against Jay Alford, Ed Johnson, and the Nitts' linebacker corps. Tony Hunt should be limited by a good Badgers defense. But yeah, I like Stocco to find tight end Travis Beckum often enough for the Badgers to cover at home.
Russell: Head-scratcher line of the week here. It seems that most people believe LSU is the most talented team in the SEC, but the Tigers have played two games against decent competition, both on the road, and lost both. Why are they favored in Knoxville, a place where they're 1-11-1 all time -- against a hot Tennessee team?
Vinny: Why does Radio Shack ask for your phone number when you buy batteries? I don't know.
Russell: You know, you don't have to answer that question. Try it some time, it's very liberating. There are some concerns about the health of Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge, who injured his ankle on a QB draw play late in last week's win over South Carolina that was nearly JLS Trophy-worthy. He had to come out of that game, and has been limited in practice this week.
Vinny: Well, there you go. Sounds like some insiders are betting that Ainge won't go and redshirt frosh Jonathan Crompton -- who has thrown all of four passes this year (but he completed all of them!) -- will get thrown to the top-ranked Tiger defense. Reading the sweet tea leaves (Phil Fulmer's cryptic comments), I'm guessing that will be the case.
Russell: I can't get past the fact that LSU is 0-2 on the road this year and scored a combined 13 points while failing to run the ball at all. Every bit of logic in my mind says to pick the Vols, but I'm going to invoke the first "line that's too good to be true" ruling of the season and take LSU. As Lee Corso likes to say -- when he isn't making sweet music (Hat tip: EDSBS) -- "somebody knows something and I'm going with the somebodies" -- LSU covers.
Vinny: Well, JaMarcus Russell played well enough to win at Auburn, but he coughed up four turnovers in Gainesville. What a brutal schedule for LSU. And they still have to play Alabama and travel to Arkansas. Regardless, I also think the Tigers notch their first road win of the season (and cover) in the tough Neyland environs.
Russell: Vin, you live in Pac-10 country. Are you feeling Beaver fever after last week's stunning upset of USC? What's that you say? Poor choice of words? Maybe so, but for my money, that was one of the best games of the year. Thank goodness it was nationally televised for all the country to see. Everybody tuned in to FSN to catch that one, right?
Vinny: Well, I did anyway. And I think it got a fair amount of viewers, especially once they heard the Trojans were in trouble and they scurried through their prevue guides to find FSN before the game finished.
Russell: I don't know who is in charge of marketing in the Pac-10, but they need to be fired. This is a conference that complains about East Cost bias, then allows its contenders to play night games on networks no one can find. A couple of weeks ago, Cal's game wasn't even televised. I get every sports channel known to man, but will I be able to see the Beavers this weekend? Nope. OK, rant over.
Vinny: You're throwing me batting practice here with these questions. I'll take the high road and pass on the cheap jokes (although one of them involved Scores). The Sun Devils have at least righted the ship after three straight losses (routed by Cal and Oregon, and a close loss at USC). Of course, playing Stanford is a cure to whatever is ailing your team, but the 26-23 win in Seattle had to give ASU confidence heading into November. And Rudy Carpenter is finally starting to play like he did in 2005.
Russell: I came away from the USC game really impressed with two things: Oregon State QB Matt Moore, and the Beavers' home crowd. Both will make life miserable for an Arizona State squad that has a habit of coming up small in anything that can be considered a big game. If the Beavers can beat USC without Yvenson Bernard, they can certainly beat ASU. The Beavers roll. This is my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Vinny: Did you bet somebody that you could say "Beavers" five times in one game discussion? It's like the "meow" scene with Jim Gaffigan in Super Troopers. Anyway, I'm not sure Oregon State isn't reading their press clippings this week. And the ASU youngsters thrown into major roles because of injuries are starting to get comfortable. I'm going to take a flyer on the Devils and the points.
Russell: If this game were televised, I might actually tune-in. For one, Nevada runs that totally-cool "pistol" formation, with the quarterback in a short shotgun formation and a tailback behind him at his usual seven-yard depth. Some other teams have noticed and are starting to put it to use -- Oregon is one that comes to mind.
Update: Nevada-Idaho is part of the ESPN GamePlan schedule this week, channel 779 for you DirecTV subscribers out there. Still no Oregon State, though.
Vinny: Interesting. I don't think I've seen that before. Can a revolver formation (where the snap is always taken by a player motioning behind the center) be far off?
Russell: I think they already run that at Miami (I'll be here all week). Vin, did you know that Idaho has its own domed stadium? The Vandals play on campus in the Kibbie Dome, which seats about 13,000, all right on top of the field. Now that I'm out of Idaho factoids, I should tell you that the Vandals did not enjoy their trip to the Islands last week, as Colt Brennan and Hawaii hung a 68-10 beatdown on 'em. Nevada doesn't have that kind of passing attack, but you have to think that whoever is at quarterback for Nevada -- they played three last week -- will have some success.
Vinny: I did not know that either. Are you trying to expose my utter lack of knowledge about these teams? If so, it's working. What I do know is that Dennis Erickson is walking the sidelines for Idaho (good practice since he's been asked to walk a straight line by a state trooper or two).
Russell: The Vandals gave Boise State a game a few weeks ago, but you don't just bounce back from a loss like they suffered last week. I'm going to ignore the double-digit home dog and stick with Nevada.
Vinny: Yeah, that could not have been a fun flight home, unless the coach was buying rounds. I'm hopping on the Nevada bandwagon as well.
Russell: OK, raise your hand if you had this as one of the games of the year in the ACC, the nation's strangest conference this season. OK, raise your hand if you knew these teams are playing for the Atlantic Division driver's seat. OK, raise your hand if you know who's in the Atlantic. Umm, raise your hand if you know the name of the other ACC division ... Beuller? (Psst: It's the "Coastal.")
Vinny: Well, I got the last one at least. Until then, I had my arms folded, Run-DMC style.
Russell: OK, poor ACC marketing decisions aside (who's running this league, the Pac-10?), this is a big game. The winner has the inside track to the ACC title game in Jacksonville on December 2. Wake Forest might be the nation's most unlikely 7-1 team, and they could be 8-0 if not for a special teams meltdown against Clemson. You hear that noise? That's the sound of financial advisors calling Wake coach Jim Grobe, who's in for either a hefty raise or a new job this offseason.
Vinny: It's hard to know the salary and buyout numbers for Grobe since Wake is a private school, but you have to think UNC might come calling if they can't lure a Butch Davis-type at first.
Russell: In a lot of ways, Boston College is a mirror image of Wake. Not flashy, but the Eagles keep winning close games, gaining confidence along the way. I really like the way quarterback Matt Ryan has played this year. He wasn't intimidated two weeks ago at Florida State and he won't be so here. I like the Eagles.
Vinny: Wake is short-handed in the backfield without running backs Micah Andrews and Kevin Harris, who both have knee injuries. So more pressure heaped on the shoulders of quarterback Riley Skinner. I'm with you on this one as well: Boston College is the pick (my Freddy).
Russell: Remember Arkansas? You know, the team that knocked off Auburn about a month ago to turn the SEC upside down? Well after fattening up on patsies for a few weeks, the Hogs are ready for another turn in the spotlight. Or are they? I'm always wary of teams that have spent a long period of time hearing how good they are without having to prove it on the field -- especially ones without a recent track record of success.
Vinny: The Hogs still have Tennessee and LSU on the November slate but at least both have to travel to
Fayetteville Arkansas. But it's pretty impressive to be 7-1 at this point of the season with a true freshman at quarterback, no matter how highly recruited he was.
Russell: This isn't a great South Carolina team by any stretch, but Steve Spurrier has the Gamecocks playing hard. They haven't made life easy for teams, and hung with Tennessee for four quarters in a physical game last week. Syvelle Newton has moved over from receiver to take over quarterback duties, and he's played pretty well, but needs to take better care of the ball. A repeat of last weeks' three-INT performance won't cut it here.
Vinny: On his weekly radio show, Spurrier said the Gamecocks have had a "so-so" season thus far. But a win here and his team is bowl-eligible again. Spurrier has stated that he needs to recruit South Carolina to the top of the SEC, and he's doing pretty well on that front too. The guy is honest, you have to give him that.
Russell: Arkansas lives and dies with the running game while that hotshot QB, Mitch Mustain, learns the ropes at this level. That's a pretty good plan, especially when you have Darren McFadden toting the mail. Still, I'm wary of the Hogs' psyche, and I refuse to believe the Old Ballcoach will make it through an entire season without pulling off an upset of somebody. Some people may have the Gamecocks looking ahead to Florida next week, but not me. South Carolina wins outright.
Vinny: I'm proud of you, Russ. You went through an entire game preview without any mention of Houston Nutt turning down that Nebraska job for $2 million a year a few years ago. I think the Hogs keep the momentum going in Columbia.
Russell: I have a four- and a six-year old. In my house, you haven't made your point until you've made it about 15 times. But seriously, do you think Nutt still thinks about that?
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||Vinny Says||Russell Says|
|West Virginia||+1.5||Louisville||West Virginia||West Virginia|
|Arizona State||+3.5||Oregon State||Arizona State||Oregon State*|
|Boston College||-4||Wake Forest||Boston College*||Boston College|
|Arkansas||-2||South Carolina||Arkansas||South Carolina|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
298 comments, Last at 07 Nov 2006, 12:09am by Tom W