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.
08 Sep 2006
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: Had to throw my man the Crocodile Hunter a little love. Is it wrong of me to try and hock my kids' Steve Irwin/Wiggles video on eBay? Wait, looks like I wasn't the first one to think of it.
Vinny: Russ, you're a heartless man. I'm not going to stoop to making light of the dead. But at least he died with two eyes.
Russell: Vin, I couldn't help but notice we threw a pair of 6-2 records on the board to open the season, and our double-Edelsteining of USC had no effect on the Trojans, who nonetheless rolled over Arkansas. Could this be the start of something big for SDA?
Vinny: Nah, probably just a fleeting deviation from the mean.
Russell: Is it just me or is the non-conference schedule better than usual this year? There are a number of good matchups this weekend, and September 16 is a cancel-your-plans Saturday, to be sure.
Vinny: It should almost be a national holiday, which reminds me of the marquee above the local adult theater on the Fourth of July: "Come Explode with Us." Ah, San Francisco.
Russell: (Awkward silence).
Russell: As much as I'd like to punish Notre Dame for its narrow escape from Georgia Tech last week, that game showed me about what I expected from the Irish. They were awful on offense in the first half, but Charlie Weis made some masterful halftime adjustments to better protect Brady Quinn after intermission. The defense was better, but also benefited from Georgia Tech forgetting to throw the ball to Calvin Johnson.
Vinny: Ah yes, that's just Chan Gailey being Chan Gailey. Meanwhile, I still can't get over the fact that Quinn is listed at 6-foot-4 -- he looks like an eight-year-old playing Pop Warner the way his helmet is five sizes too big for his noggin. Quinn and Weis have to be salivating at Penn State's inexperienced defensive line and secondary.
Russell: The biggest change I saw in the Notre Dame offense from last season is that Rhema McKnight appears to have replaced Jeff Samardzija as the go-to receiver. Perhaps that's a result of Samardzija spending his summer pitching in the Cubs' organization.
Vinny: Samardzija will work back into form. And if Quinn has his timing down with both Samardzija and McKnight, and Darius Walker is running strong, that's scary. This offense could be just as good as last year. For Penn State, wideout Derrick Williams seems to have picked up where he left off last season before breaking his arm halfway through the year.
Russell: Penn State needs to follow the blueprint that Georgia Tech laid out. Blitz, blitz, and blitz some more to get Quinn off his rhythm. The Notre Dame offensive line clearly had some protection issues that Paul Posluszny and friends can exploit. Quinn didn't look like a Heisman favorite when he was picking himself up off the turf every play. I think Notre Dame has enough to win this game, but the line is way too high for my taste. I'll take JoePa, his high-waters, and the points over Weis and his size-56s.
Vinny: The cheap shots are plentiful this week. The Anthony Morelli Era got off to a pretty good start last week. But the Lions had a hard time running the ball against Akron -- Tony Hunt had only 36 yards on 14 carries. Ooph. The Irish secondary is back intact, although they were skewered early and often last season. That was just as attributable to their paltry pass rush. Like you, Russ, I think the spread is too much to go with the Irish. And if Morelli holds up in his first road test, this could be a fun game (read: track meet) to watch. Penn State and the points for me.
Russell: This is a key game in the ACC Atlantic Division, as Clemson looks for some revenge for last year's home loss to the Eagles. The last time these teams met in Chestnut Hill, Doug Flutie was the quarterback for Boston College. This time, he'll be in the ABC studio, where in Week 1 he proved to be a big upgrade over Aaron Taylor.
Vinny: Speaking of the ABC/ESPN lineup shuffles, why hasn't there been some sort of UN resolution re: Mike Patrick and Paul Maguire assailing college football fans with their sycophantic drooling and inane observations? (As opposed to the dazzling college football acumen displayed in this space every week...) Is this some sort of divide and bludgeon strategy? I liked it better when they were paired together on Sunday night NFL games, so I could avoid them altogether.
Russell: Vin, I want you to read this comment right here. Read it! ESPN seems bound and determined to suck every ounce of joy out of my football-viewing life. But yet I still watch. I think this one could come down the to play of the quarterbacks. Boston College's Matt Ryan is a veteran, and he looked terrific against Central Michigan last week, throwing for 323 yards, three TDs and no interceptions in a 31-24 win. Will Proctor, on the other hand, who is replacing Charlie Whitehurst at Clemson, didn't look all that great despite the Tigers' 54-6 rout of Florida Atlantic. Now he faces an amped-up road crowd in a key conference game. I'm not sure he's ready.
Vinny: There's a lot of talent on this Clemson team, led by senior defensive end Gaines Adams (9.5 sacks in 2005) and stud freshman running back C.J. Spiller. The Tigers' four losses last year were by a combined 14 points. Two of those came in overtime, including the 16-13 loss at home to Boston College. The schedule for Clemson this year isn't kind, with trips to Tallahassee, Winston-Salem and Blacksburg all coming up. At least they avoid Miami.
Russell: The man to watch in this game is Boston College LB/RB Brian Toal. He scored the OT-clinching touchdown in last year's meeting, and had both a rushing TD and an interception against CMU last week. He'll score again this week. Plus, this are the kind of game that Tom O'Brien always seems to win. I'll take Boston College and the points.
Vinny: Ryan's top targets are gone at wide receiver and tight end, and senior Tony Gonzales will have to step up from being the No. 3 receiver last year. There are certainly more intimidating places than the Heights, but Proctor is a bad gamble (I'll be here all week!). The Eagles win outright.
Russell: Oklahoma was a chic pick to win the national title before starting QB Rhett Bomar was kicked off the team. But with Paul Thompson under center, it seems nobody gives the Sooners a chance. Funny thing happened in the opener: Thompson played fairly well and Adrian Peterson ran wild (208 yards from scrimmage), but Oklahoma barely survived in a seven-point squeaker over UAB.
Vinny: Thompson has some great young receivers in Malcom Kely, Juaquin Iglesias, and Manuel Johnson. And Thompson found tight end Joe Jon Finley (my new favorite name in college football) seven times, including once for a touchdown, in the opener.
Russell: I can't believe you've turned on BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Washington escaped with a win against San Jose State in its opener last week, but it's hard to say if the Huskies are really making progress in year two under Tyrone Willingham, who apparently has had a bit of an identity crisis recently.
Vinny: That kind of delusion is probably familiar to Notre Dame fans.
Russell: I have to believe Oklahoma will play much better this week, especially on defense. Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback is a talented athlete who will probably make some big plays for both teams, but it'll add up to a three-TD win by the Sooners, who cover the big number.
Vinny: Russ, we're thinking alike this week. Linebacker Scott White and punter Sean Douglas are Washington's most reliable players, and they'll be on the field most of the day. Oklahoma coasts to an easy cover.
Russell: I don't think LSU received enough credit for what it accomplished last year -- 10 wins and a Peach Bowl destruction of Miami -- despite dealing with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita at the start of the season, all while breaking in a new coach. The Tigers had their first three games rescheduled or moved. I'm sure they're enjoying a Hurricane-free start to 2006.
Vinny: Nice job Russ, if that's not a kibosh, I don't know what is.
Russell: Come on, Vin. It's not like I predicted clear weather for Columbus or South Bend. This is Mike Stoops' third season in Tuscon, and big things are expected following a pair of 3-8 campaigns. He certainly seems to have the family trademark -- defense -- working. Arizona completely shut down BYU in a 16-13 win in their home opener last week.
Vinny: Yep, and brother Mark Stoops -- do these guys grow on trees, or what? -- is the defensive coordinator. Junior cornerback Antoine Cason leads a very good secondary for the Wildcats. The linebacking corps will be solid if it can stay healthy, and the defensive line is expected to improve from last season. LSU has an outstanding secondary as well, including free safety LaRon Landry, who's back on campus after nearly jumping to the NFL.
Russell: LSU has had its way with Pac-10 teams in recent years, and I can't see things changing here. JaMarcus Russell, who had to win back his starting QB job in fall camp, is coming off a huge game. He won't put up monster numbers against a Stoops defense, but I can't see Arizona scoring much at all. LSU covers.
Vinny: This is where we part company, Russ. Arizona struggled offensively in the opener with three redshirt freshmen earning starting jobs on the offensive line. Normally that would spell disaster against LSU, but the Tigers have a young front seven of their own. I think Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama (1,105 yards, nine TDs in five games in 2005) will make this a ballgame. The Wildcats cover.
Russell: Steve Spurrier as a home 'dog. That's gotta tempt you, right Vin? Especially considering the opposing quarterback is Joe Tereshinski III.
Vinny: The Sausage King of Athens does not inspire confidence.
Russell: Tereshinski derailed Georgia's season last year in his only start, a loss to Florida. He won the job this fall, but was an uninspiring 7-of-17 for 90 yards against I-AA directional patsy Western Kentucky last Saturday. He'll face a South Carolina defense that shut out Mississippi State on the road in its opener. Granted, that's the equivalent of allowing 21 points to a real offense, but still worth noting.
Vinny: "Derailed" may be a little harsh, since he did account for Georgia's only touchdown over Florida: a nine-yard catch and tumble on a halfback option. But you're right in that he's not exactly D.J. Shockley or David Greene. Mark Richt is saying two quarterbacks will see time this Saturday, but he's mum on exactly who. So backup Joe Cox and/or freshman Matthew Stafford are in the mix. Whoever it is, it will be their first road start.
Russell: Spurrier's offense may not be much better than Mississippi State's, but he reached into the bag of tricks for a receiver pass for the clinching touchdown. Spurrier nearly pulled off the upset of Georgia last season, which would have given him the hater-ade trifecta of wins over Tennessee, Florida and Georgia in his debut season with the Gamecocks. He may get it this year. South Carolina in an upset.
Vinny: I'm probably going to regret this, but I think Georgia finds a way, even with all the uncertainty at quarterback. Maybe Brandon Coutu kicks six field goals and Quintin Moses has three sacks. Georgia gets a hard-earned road cover.
Russell: Vin, are we sure about these rankings? Maybe we should check with Senator Tressel. While we're at it, perhaps we can find out if he'll be wearing the sweatervest on Saturday, when the high temperature in Austin is supposed to hit 95 degrees (advantage, Longhorns).
Vinny: He probably sleeps in that thing. Both of these programs lost plenty of talent from last year's squads, and they're still atop the rankings. That tells you how much talent Tressel and Mack Brown reel in each year, mostly from within their respective state borders. Defensive end Tim Crowder and safety Michael Griffin are back to lead a Texas defense that's expected to be almost as good as last year's unit.
Russell: Hard to believe, but this time a year ago, Troy Smith was coming off a suspension and was platooned with the immortal Justin Zwick, while all the headlines went to Vince Young in Texas's 25-22 win over the Buckeyes.
Vinny: Smith looked sharp in the opener last weekend, going 18-of-25 for 297 yards while finding Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez for three touchdowns. Of course, he'll face more of a pass rush this week.
Russell: Texas has an issue in the secondary, where senior corner Tarell Brown, who was to have drawn the assignment opposite Ted Ginn, earned some Fulmer Cup points by getting arrested on marijuana and gun charges. Backup safety Tyrell Gatewood was also arrested on marijuana charges. They'll sit on Saturday (advantage, Buckeyes).
Vinny: Who are you, Nick Bakay? For what it's worth, they passed a drug test. When asked about it, Tressel reportedly responded, "That's the first I've heard of it."
Russell: Ohio State has some work to do with all the new guys on defense after being shredded by Garrett Wolfe of Northern Illinois. Not that there's any shame in that. Still, last year it was Vince Young that bailed out Texas in this matchup. Can redshirt freshman Colt McCoy make those kinds of plays? Moreover, with Smith having morphed into a Young clone for the Buckeyes, will it matter? Put me down for another underdog. Ohio State wins outright.
Vinny: Yep, the Buckeyes offense won't be stifled by the Texas defense this time. Ohio State wins going away. Forget the sweatervest and grab the trench coat -- this is my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Russell: I think now would be the appropriate time to accuse us of a kibosh.
Russell: With Texas-Ohio State on an hour before, I'll definitely have this one on the second screen in my living room Saturday night. Neither of these teams likes to run the ball much. Somewhere, Mouse Davis is smiling.
Vinny: A Mouse Davis reference! What's next? An allusion to Jerry Glanville's original "get back" coach?
Russell: Speaikng of Glanville, he's now sporting the flower-lei-and-big-belt-buckle combo on Hawaii's sidelines as the defensive coordinator for June Jones. Texas Tech's latest robo-QB, Graham Harrell, threw for five TDs in his debut as the Red Raiders' starter, continuing in the fine tradition of Kliff Kingsbury and Cody Hodges. Speaking of tradition, UTEP quarterback Jordan (brother of Carson) Palmer hopes to avoid the struggling brother lineage that claimed the athletic careers of the likes of Dan McGwire, Ozzie Canseco, and the all-time leader in the category, Keith Gretzky.
Vinny: Chris Gwynn, Jeremy Giambi, Eugene Staubach ... the list is a long one...
Russell: Palmer will have to do better than last week's four-INT performance against San Diego State if the Miners are to pull the upset. It won't happen. Mike Leach channels his best Blackbeard pregame speech and the Red Raiders roll. This is my Fred Edelstein Lock.
Vinny: Leach is breaking in his first non-senior quarterback since 2001. But there's plenty of talent around to ease the learning process. I like Texas Tech as well.
Russell: I might be tempted to take Fresno in this game, but I'm not sure the Bulldogs actually know what to do with themselves on a Saturday night, given the typical weekday scheduling that prevails with the WAC's marquee teams.
Vinny: Hmm, a Saturday night at Fresno State usually involves ... weed and guns? In other words, the same as a Sunday night in Austin.
Russell: They don't call them "Fres-necks" for nothing. These teams have a penchant for playing close games, with four straight nail-biters in the series, all won by Oregon. Last year, the Ducks trailed 17-0 before rallying to a 37-34 win. With Cal's no-show at Tennessee, Oregon looks like it might be the top challenger to USC in the Pac-10, a notion that gained steam after the Ducks crushed Stanford in their opener. Dennis Dixon looks like he will indeed keep Brady Leaf on the bench, and Jonathan Stewart could challenge Cal's Marshawn Lynch as the conference's best running back.
Vinny: For their sake, I hope the Ducks do a better job of disguising their signals than Cal did. Defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and linebacker Anthony Trucks are big losses from last year's team, so defensive coordinator Nick Alloti has his work cut out for him.
Russell: I'm a big fan of Fresno coach Pat Hill and his "anyone, anytime, anywhere" approach to scheduling. Occasionally, he even gets one of the big boys to pay a visit to Bulldog Stadium, where his teams are 44-8. I also like Fresno tailback Dwayne Wright, who missed two years with a knee injury, returning with 158 yards and three scores in a season-opening win over Nevada. Still, I think I've had enough of the home dogs this week. I'll take Oregon on the road, laying the five.
Vinny: Paul Pinegar is gone, but the Bulldogs have Wright, a veteran offensive line and a good bunch of receivers to surround sophomore Tom Brandstater. And Hill should have a solid defense. I think Fresno State can cover at home.
(* -- "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||Vinny Says||Russell Says|
|Penn State||+8||Notre Dame||Penn State||Penn State|
|Clemson||-2.5||Boston College||Boston College||Boston College|
|Georgia||-3||South Carolina||Georgia||South Carolina|
|Ohio State||+2.5||Texas||Ohio State*||Ohio State|
|Texas Tech||-6.5||UTEP||Texas Tech||Texas Tech*|
|Oregon||-5||Fresno State||Fresno State||Oregon|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
113 comments, Last at 10 Sep 2006, 1:08pm by Kal