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.
26 Oct 2006
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: Well Vin, kind of a weak slate this weekend. At least we have the
World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party between Georgia and Florida. Oh, wait. Georgia's terrible, and the PC Police have gotten to that one. I think EDSBS has the right idea.
Vinny: It's a ridiculous attempt by some over-sensitive academic folks to mess with tradition. But I guess we shouldn't be surprised at the demise of the stylish moniker for the rivalry. As a wise man once said: all things end badly, or else they wouldn't end.
Russell: And, as an even wiser man once said: Anything else is always something better.
Vinny: Nicely done.
Russell: A quick standings update. Vin, your utter lack of faith in Michigan's ability to dominate Iowa -- er, make me sweat for about 55 minutes before putting the game away -- helped me edge you by two games last week and grab the overall standings lead by a single game. But the Fred Edelstein Locks are a different story, as my season-long disaster continues, while you continue to be money in the bank despite a slip last week. Most importantly, another week has gone by, and we're both still over .500 for the season, including a solid 23-16 mark on games we agree. Is the curse dead?
Vinny: The luck is gone, the brain is shot, but the liquor we still got.
Russell: I don't even know who you are anymore. Alright, let's see if we can hold off the collapse for another week.
Russell: Who put together the Clemson schedule? And have they been fired yet? Just five days after a huge home win against Georgia Tech, the Tigers face a tough road test at Virginia Tech. This isn't the NFL, where the league handles the scheduling. There's no reason for Clemson to have to play a game like this, on the road with short rest.
Vinny: I'm guessing Tommy Bowden and Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips (was Peter Tom Willis unavailable?) had some input with the ACC folks. The Hokies are also dealing with the very short week, but they only had to deal with Southern Miss last Saturday.
Russell: Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is vulnerable having already lost twice this season. The Hokies looked lifeless in losing at Boston College two weeks ago, and worse yet there was some infighting on the sidelines and undisciplined play on the field. Dating back to the Marcus Vick experience, all the extra-curricular stuff is starting to take a toll on Frank Beamer's reputation. But the Hokies can save their season -- and take a blowtorch to Clemson's -- if they can beat the Tigers here.
Vinny: Beamer has owned Thursday nights, but that 22-3 beating at BC a few weeks ago makes me think the magic is over, at least this year. He's planning on playing the more mobile Ike Whitaker along with starter Sean Glennon at quarterback against Clemson.
Russell: Clemson running back James Davis is questionable with a dinged-up shoulder. He's the ACC's leading rusher, but it's not like the Tigers are in trouble without him. Anyone who saw C.J. Spiller tear up Georgia Tech last Saturday knows that. I would say this is a potential trap game for Clemson, but I think the line already reflects that. I'll stick with the Tigers.
Vinny: Even if Beamer's move to dual quarterbacks pays off in this game, it won't help the defense and special teams, which haven't been up to his usual standards. Clemson rolls.
Russell: Wow, when was the last time Missouri was favored over Oklahoma? And I'm not counting the Howard Schnellenberger era, either. But that's the situation Saturday when the Adrian Peterson-less Sooners visit Mizzou.
Vinny: For pre-kickoff hype, this is the biggest game at Faurot Field in a long, long time. But the Tigers will miss defensive end Brian Smith, who broke his leg in a 41-21 rout of Kansas State last week. Smith is fifth in the country with 7.5 sacks and is Missouri's career sack leader.
Russell: There's a pretty big drop-off from Peterson to Allen Patrick, so this game is going to be on the shoulders of quarterback Paul Thompson. I've been really impressed with his play this season, given that the guy was a receiver until about two weeks before the opener. I think he can come up with a big play or two.
Vinny: Well, Mizzou has had some problems stopping the run in the last couple weeks, yielding over 440 rushing yards. Yes, both games got out of hand early, but you've got to be able to stop the run when you know it's coming. So even though he's only rushing for 3.2 yards per carry, I wouldn't be shocked to see Patrick have a nice day.
Russell: Missouri is a good club, with Chase Daniel (19 touchdowns, 5 interceptions) leading a balanced offense and a nasty defense. Still, I'm not sure the Tigers are ready to win a game like this. This is a big game for Mizzou, but does Oklahoma feel the same way? The Sooners have won 27 of 30 in the series, so something tells me they're not sweating this one that much. I'm taking Oklahoma.
Vinny: The Sooners definitely have some talent at receiver. But I'm curious to see how much Thompson throws away from Mizzou cornerback Darnell Terrell. I can't walk away from Oklahoma and the points.
Russell: Hey, it's the oldest continuous intersectional rivalry in the nation! Whoo-hoo! Uh, why do they still play this one, exactly? Notre Dame has won 42 straight in the series.
Vinny: Well, Navy funds a good chunk of its athletics budget with ticket sales from this game. Of course, these teams are heading back to Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland in 2012 -- they played there in November 1996 when Notre Dame rolled to a 54-27 victory. Nothing like reinforcing stereotypes. I actually saw a Gaelic football game at Croke Park last year. Very strange sport to a visiting Yank. Up Armagh!
Russell: Umm, I saw three preschool recitals last year, which is kind of the same thing. Any hopes Navy had of pulling the upset probably disappeared when senior quarterback and leading rusher Brian Hampton was lost for the year with a dislocated knee against Rutgers. Navy lost that game, 34-0, by the way. That's a pretty good example of what happens when a team that likes to pass about as much as Charlie Weis likes to hit the salad bar falls behind.
Vinny: That was sad to see Hampton end his career like that, especially as a first-year starter. Hopefully his cousin, Sir Charles Barkley, has lifted his spirits with some good one-liners or video of his golf swing.
Russell: See, that's the kind of info you can't get in just any college picks column. Meanwhile, I couldn't help but notice that Weis was complaining this week about Notre Dame dropping in the polls. Gee, Charlie, do you think barely beating UCLA at home had anything to do with it? Notre Dame is a legitimate top-15 team, but what do the Irish really have to hang their hats on? A four-point win over Georgia Tech? Maybe after they crush Navy they'll get a little more respect but I doubt it. Weis should stop complaining and appreciate the fact that his club is going to a BCS game for the second straight year without beating anybody good. By the way, I'm laying the points on the Irish.
Vinny: I pity Craig Bolerjack and Steve Beuerlein for drawing the duty of pronouncing Navy backup quarterback Kaip-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada's name. But Notre Dame gets the easy cover this week (my Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week).
Russell: What's in the water in Provo? (And yes, I know, the answer is "water.") BYU has the offense cranking, bringing back memories of the Robbie Bosco glory days. These days, it's John Beck at the controls, and he's throwing for over 300 yards a game.
Vinny: Marvin and Velma would be proud.
Russell: Those are three names I enjoy, Marvin, Velman, and Provo. BYU can't overlook Air Force. Yes, the Zoomies lost to San Diego State last week, but this is the same team that nearly shocked Tennessee in Knoxville and almost handled Navy a few weeks back. They're capable of winning, especially at home.
Vinny: Maybe, but Air Force gave Chuck Long's San Diego State team its first win last week. They outgained the Aztecs almost two to one, but still found a way to lose the game.
Russell: BYU probably has too much balance for Air Force. The Cougars are playing well across all facets of the game, and I expect it to continue in Colorado Springs. Air Force will keep up for a while with its option attack, but Beck and BYU will go over the top for a few scores. The Cougars cover (Fred Edelstein
Kiss of Death Lock).
Vinny: The Cougars had close losses on the road at Arizona and Boston College, and have mauled every mid-major opponent on their schedule. I think the trend continues. BYU covers.
Russell: When all is said and done, it may turn out that USC's season-opening road rout of Arkansas was one of the most important games of the college football season. That result has helped to keep the Trojans, who have been struggling with average teams in recent weeks, near the top of the BCS standings. As it stands, USC will play in the title game if it wins out, especially given that it closes the year with games against Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame, and UCLA. But first, the Trojans need to quit this nasty habit of having to sweat out games against opponents they should bury. This week's contestant is 4-3 Oregon State.
Vinny: The Beavers notched two road wins (at Washington, at Arizona) in the last two weeks. They shut down Arizona's offense to the tune of 183 yards, although the Wildcats were down to their third string quarterback. We'll see if that develops some confidence and momentum this week for Oregon State.
Russell: USC has had a week off since barely surviving against Arizona State, and that's critical for receiver Dwayne Jarrett, whose injured shoulder should be close to 100% after the bye. Without Jarrett stretching defenses, USC has had to grind it out, but he is a difference-maker for this offense, particularly against an Oregon State team that excels against the run and will load up to stop Chauncey Washington and the USC ground game.
Vinny: I can't remember the last time Mike Riley had a defense this serviceable (26th in the nation in total defense). Of course, Cal and Boise State lit them up earlier in the year, so that bodes very well for the Trojans.
Russell: Bad news for Oregon State: Top running back Yvenson Bernard has an ankle injury and will not be at full strength even if he does play. Besides being another contender for the all-name team, Bernard keeps the pressure of Oregon State QB Matt Moore. But if Moore has to put the game on his shoulder against USC, the Beavers are in real trouble. Jarrett will have a big day and USC will look more like a championship team after routing the Beavers and covering the big spread
Vinny: I second that notion. USC cruises to the cover.
Russell: A few weeks back, this looked like it would be another of the Games of the Year in the SEC, aka the greatest conference in the history of mankind. Don't get me wrong, I'd still rate the SEC the top conference in the nation, but just because there are a handful of teams that could win it, doesn't make them all national title contenders. Georgia has been exposed the last several games, getting bombed at home by Tennessee and then losing to Vandy.
Vinny: Chris Leak was in Sanford Stadium last week to watch Georgia edge Mississippi State 27-24 (Florida had a bye week). He witnessed an ugly game, but every Georgia game has been lacking in aesthetic qualities this year.
Russell: It would help if Georgia actually had an offense, but the Dawgs are terrible on that side of the ball, and things only get worse this week with top running back Thomas Brown out. Matthew Stafford gets the call at QB, but without a running game, and with a receiving corps that can't seem to catch the ball, I'm not expecting much in the way of points.
Vinny: Mark Richt is supposed to be an offensive genius (especially when compared to his successor as offensive coordinator in Tallahassee, the embattled Jeff Bowden). The Bulldogs do have great depth at the tailback position with Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware around to pick up the slack for Brown. Ware has had some nice games against the Gators the last few years.
Russell: Florida has had two weeks to prepare for this one, and Urban Meyer knows his Gators need to have an impressive showing if they're going to maintain their place near the top of the one-loss teams hoping to sneak into the BCS championship. I'm confident the Gator defense will shut down Georgia, and I think Leak will be given enough time to throw to cover the big number. I like Florida.
Vinny: Agreed. I am staying as far away from that awful Georgia offense as possible. I expect Florida to clobber Georgia in this one. The Gators are the pick.
Russell: Look out, Bruins. This is a bad time to be coming off a tough loss and catching a team that's hot. UCLA was of course on the other end of that Notre Dame miracle last week, but the Bruins can't feel sorry for themselves against Wazzu, a team that's coming off a stunning upset of Oregon.
Vinny: The Bruin defense took a lot of heat for allowing Brady Quinn to march the Irish offense right down the field at the end last week. But UCLA's defense is much improved compared to last season's sieve-like version (113th in the nation in total defense at 468 yards per game). Of course, with Cal and USC coming up, we'll see if they're for real.
Russell: The Washington State defense has been even more impressive, holding three of the Pac-10's top offenses in check -- neither Cal nor USC broke 30 points against the Cougars. Since offense is not UCLA's forte, you have to like this matchup for Wazzu.
Vinny: Cougars quarterback Alex Brink continues to improve. He went 20 of 23 last week in the 34-23 win over the Ducks. But he hasn't been able to find stud receiver Jason Hill with the long ball as much as Wazzu fans would like.
Russell: UCLA might be the better team top-to-bottom, particularly if everyone was healthy. But I don't like a team coming off a heart-breaker playing an up-and-comer, and that's exactly how this one shakes out. Washington State pulls off the upset in the Rose Bowl.
Vinny: Under the circumstances, sophomore quarterback Patrick Cowan has been fine on the road the last few weeks, but the Bruins would have liked to have had Ben Olson obviously. Olson is still out for this one. I like Wazzu as well.
Russell: The two-week stretch in the Tennessee schedule with Alabama and South Carolina has got to do wonders for Phil Fulmer's self esteem. A week after taking care of the Tide, whose supporters probably list Fulmer only slightly above Osama bin Laden on the likeability scale, the Tennessee coach gets to match up with his personal nemesis in Steve Spurrier. It was Spurrier who owned Fulmer even when he had some of his greatest teams, and it was the Old Ball Coach who came up with the phrase, "You can't spell Citrus without UT" when the Gators were constantly relegating the Vols to that second-tier bowl. What's worse, Spurrier continued his mastery of Fulmer, winning in Knoxville with South Carolina last season.
Vinny: My favorite Spurrier line is still his one-liner when there was a fire at Auburn's football dorm that claimed 20 books: "But the real tragedy was that 15 of them hadn't been colored in yet."
Russell: Tennessee bares no resemblance to the team that went 5-6 last year. Erik Ainge has morphed from skittish sophomore to one of the nation's most efficient passers as a junior, and the defense has been dominant. Spurrier, on the other hand, hasn't seen quite the growth from his squad in year two in Columbia, although things have been a little better since Syvelle Newton took over at quarterback. .
Vinny: Vols tailback Lamarcus Coker is out with a knee injury, which gives Arian Foster a chance at redemption. Foster fumbled at the goal line in the second quarter of last year's Gamecocks' 16-15 victory in Knoxville. Montario Hardesty will also get his share of carries in the Tennessee backfield.
Russell: It's tough to ignore Spurrier's history against Fulmer in picking this one, but South Carolina is just not that good a team. Sure, they'll have the home crowd working for them, but the Vols are better top to bottom. I like Tennessee to cover here.
Vinny: Yeah, I think the Vols are at least a score better than South Carolina. Okay Russ, we agreed on every pick this week (first time ever?). That can't be good for anybody. Unless you're betting against us.
Russell: Ugh. Excuse me as I put on my tin-foil hat and have a cocktail while I watch the Georgia-Florida game.
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
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|Notre Dame||-14||Navy||Notre Dame*||Notre Dame|
|Washington State||+1||UCLA||Washington State||Washington State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
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177 comments, Last at 31 Oct 2006, 2:18pm by Pat