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?
20 Oct 2006
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: I don't know about you Vin, but it's midweek and my voice is still recovering from Saturday night in Happy Valley. That place was LOUD -- although the over-reliance on canned sound effects is a little disappointing.
Vinny: If I hear Kernkraft 400 again, I'm going to slit my wrists with a dull butter knife. (At least throw in some scantily-clad ladies like the video.) It was like a pre-season NBA game broke out. Or an episode of Sprockets. If they really are Penn State, like they keep reminding everyone, do they really need the techno and low-brow scoreboard graphics? I was actually happy to hear the silly lion growl just to break things up.
Russell: Nothing intimidates like techno! Yeah, that sort of stuff is beneath them. It's not like they're playing at Papa John's Stadium. What happened to letting the marching band play?
Vinny: Oh well, State College is still the best road trip in the Big Ten. And the Phyrst family confirmed that Ernie is still alive, which is nice.
Russell: Meanwhile, it was another not-disastrous week in the picks for us, keeping us both solidly over .500 on the season, with you holding a one-game lead in the overall standings.
Vinny: It's just a matter of time before our picks have a meltdown like Miami, Florida International, and Lamar Thomas. Frankly, I think Lamar has been overcompensating since he got caught by George Teague. Okay, no more YouTube clips, I promise. At least for this week.
Russell: What, are you angling for a chunk of that $1.6 billion? By the way, SDA can be bought. Call me! Um, kind of a limited slate of quality games this week as the sport catches its breath for the home stretch, with some enormous games to come in a few weeks. Let's get to it.
Russell: This is nominally a big game in the Big 12, but I just don't see it. Nebraska may be 6-1, but the Huskers haven't beaten anyone with a pulse. And in the only big game they've played to date, Bill Callahan played not to get embarrassed at USC.
Vinny: The Huskers have shown a commitment to their rushing attack this season (300 carries over seven games), but as you note, they stayed with it far too long (35 rushes for 79 yards) against the Trojans. Nebraska trailed for three full quarters in the game, but Zac Taylor only threw 16 passes. You know Texas, with the second-best rush defense in the nation, will make Taylor beat them. He's been very capable (14 TDs, 2 INTs, 65% completion percentage) thus far.
Russell: Texas is really starting to click on offense, as long as the opponent is not named Ohio State. Colt McCoy threw a school-record six touchdown passes last week in a shootout win over Baylor. With Nebraska's front seven underachieving for most of the year, McCoy should be able to put up some big numbers against the Black Shirts.
Vinny: The Texas secondary has also been vulnerable this year. Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin are in the NFL, and injuries and suspensions haven't helped. Tarell Brown (toe) and safety Marcus Griffin (ankle) return to the lineup this week.
Russell: Maybe the home crowd in Lincoln will inspire Nebraska to play a little more aggressively than they did in the L.A. Coliseum. I'll believe it when I see it. I think the line is way too low in this one. I'm going with Texas and getting my Fred Edelstein Lock out of the way here.
Vinny: Yeah, I think Texas wins by at least a touchdown. Mack Brown can get back to concentrating on his next cameo on NBC's Friday Night Lights
Russell: Well, well. Look who has a chance at a bowl in the year after they lose a first-round quarterback.
Vinny: I can't believe Bryant Hahnfeldt actually hit that 33-yard field goal to upset Georgia last week. Vandy has been in that situation so many times lately (Middle Tennessee State, Arkansas, etc.) and always seems to botch it.
Russell: This is a critical contest for Vandy, which needs three more wins to go bowling. There are two possible wins (Duke, Kentucky) and two likely losses (Florida, Tennessee) left on the schedule, so this is a huge swing game for the 'dores.
Vinny: Vandy sophomore quarterback Chris Nickson improvised nicely against the Bulldogs, leading his team with 59 rushing yards and making some big throws. He had his hands full behind a makeshift offensive line and against a very good defensive line. And Earl Bennett pulled in eight catches for 88 yards.
Russell: South Carolina is 4-2, but has four tough games left, so they can't afford to slip up here. Steve Spurrier's crew hasn't shown quite the offensive growth that was expected in year two. I like how Vandy competes for 60 minutes, winning or losing. I'll take the Commodores as a home 'dog.
Vinny: Spurrier is now 14-0 lifetime against Kentucky after last week's 24-17 win, and is trying to go 14-0 against Vanderbilt. His recent recruiting classes haven't panned out that well, so he's used receivers Sydney Rice and Jared Cook in the Gamecocks' late game prevent defense. Now he's talking about using defensive tackle Stanley Doughty on the offensive line in short-yardage situations. South Carolina isn't as offensively challenged as Georgia, but I also like Vandy and the points here.
|On a serious note:|
|Most college fans like nothing better on Sunday mornings than to sleep off the after-affects of Saturday's games, myself included. But this Sunday I'll be up early, walking with my family to raise money for Cure Autism Now, which funds autism research, treatment and awareness. Please https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=144270&lis=0... " target="_blank">consider a donation. No amount is too small! Autism is something that affects millions of Americans, my family included.
Russell: Not exactly a battle of Big 12 heavyweights here -- unless we're talking about Kansas coach Mark Mangino. (Thanks, I'll be here all week, tip your waitresses.) Still, this is an interesting matchup in that both these teams are in the hunt for a bowl bid.
Vinny: More fodder for the folks who think there are too many bowl games. I might be one of them after looking at these teams' resumes -- I'm not sure which one is less impressive. Baylor's best win is arguably a 34-31 triple overtime win at Colorado. The Jayhawks' best performance is a 13-7 home victory over South Florida. Yeesh.
Russell: Baylor plays a pretty entertaining brand of football under former Kentucky coach Guy Morriss. The Bears like to throw the ball (10th in passing offense) and has to like the matchup against a team that was just torched for 42 second-half points and 411 passing yards by Oklahoma State.
Vinny: Baylor leads the Big 12 in takeaways with 20. Of course, Baylor leads the conference in giveaways, with 19. At least they make things interesting.
Russell: Kansas runs the ball well, and the Jayhawks need to have success on the ground to keep Shawn Bell and the Baylor passing attack stapled to the bench. I think Bell will make the most of his opportunities against that porous Kansas pass D. I like the Bears at home.
Russell: I'm trying real hard not to get too excited just yet about this Michigan season. I don't care that Iowa lost to Indiana last week, the Hawkeyes are still dangerous. Lloyd Carr has done a good job of keeping the Wolverines on an even keel all year and not looking ahead, and he needs to do it for another week.
Vinny: (rocking back and forth, hunched over in fetal position while nodding)
Russell: Iowa quarterback Drew Tate can make some plays in the pass game, particularly if the Hawkeyes get him outside the pocket and employ a lot of three-step drops. You'd have to think that any coach who watched what Michigan's defensive line did to the Penn State QB depth chart would go that route.
Vinny: The short stuff has worked to some degree for Minnesota's Bryan Cupito and Wisconsin's John Stocco against Michigan. But Penn State didn't seem to have a plan. Even worse, the Lions' offensive line was so confused that it served up its QB on a silver platter. For Iowa, not having starting left tackle Dace Richardson available isn't a good start.
Russell: One thing we know: Iowa will not be able to run the ball. The Wolverines lead the nation in rush defense, and even if you take out their sack yardage and allow everyone else to keep theirs, Michigan would still rank fourth against the rush. I came away as impressed with Michigan's business-like approach last week as anything else. The Wolverines stay on track to take on Ohio State in the biggest game in the history of Western Civilization by covering the big number here.
Vinny: Chad Henne showed impressive command in the din of Beaver Stadium last week. And receiver Adrian Arrington (an Iowa kid) continues to step up in Mario Manningham's absence. For the Hawkeyes, I think Kirk Ferentz will have Iowa primed and motivated after the Indiana loss. This line is too high, even in Ann Arbor. Michigan prevails (I hope), but Iowa covers.
Russell: Tennessee seems to get lost in the SEC conversation this year, but the Vols' rout of Cal is looking better each week. They're right in the thick of the Arkansas-Auburn-Florida-Tennessee power struggle.
Vinny: Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Cutcliffe, who tutored Peyton Manning and Tee Martin during Tennessee's 1996-98 halcyon days, has done wonders for Erik Ainge's confidence (14 touchdowns, 5 interceptions). The Vols probably won't win the SEC East after already falling to Florida, but they're well positioned for a BCS game if they can survive the coming gauntlet of Alabama, at South Carolina, LSU and at Arkansas.
Russell: Alabama, on the other hand, is in the middle tier of SEC clubs, but they play things close to the vest, run the ball well and have the ability to control tempo of most games and draw the opposition into ugly, defensive struggles. Shockingly, Alabama coach Mike Shula was once the offensive coordinator for a soul-sucking Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that attempted to win every game 9-6. It's a good thing the Bucs now have offensive wizard Jon Gruden and attempt to win 13-7.
Vinny: Hard to believe. Receivers DJ Hall and Keith Brown have been a big part of the offense, but tailback Kenneth Darby is starting regain his form as the Tide offensive line comes together.
Russell: This is a big-time rivalry game and there is certainly no love lost between the fan bases (Albert Means, anyone?). Tennessee will win, but Alabama will manage to make them look bad and hold the score down in the process. I'll take the Tide.
Vinny: Agreed. Tide defensive coordinator Joe Kines will muck up the Tennessee game plan enough for this to be another SEC slugfest. Alabama is the pick.
Russell: Raise your hand if you thought the Big East would be deeper than the ACC this season. Beuller? It's certainly looking that way, with the winner of this game a threat to challenge Louisville and West Virginia in the coming weeks.
Vinny: Pitt would be coming into this game undefeated like Rutgers if not for a 38-23 loss at home to Michigan State (pre-perennial slap-happy Spartan collapse, of course).
Russell: The Rutgers defense is nasty, with Ramel Meekins leading the push from the front seven. The Knights lead the nation in scoring defense, although a lot of that is attributable to the schedule thus far. This is by far Rutgers's biggest game of the year, and maybe the biggest in program history since they took on Princeton in 1869.
Vinny: Special teams could figure a big role in this game, with Rutgers having blocked four punts already this season. On the other side, junior college transfer Lowell Robinson has been a real return threat for Pitt.
Russell: And don't forget Rutgers's standout kicker, Jeremy "Lance" Ito. Pitt has a big edge at quarterback, where senior Tyler Palko leads the nation in passing efficiency, while Mike Teel has struggled in the passing game. Ray Rice and the running game have carried the Knights. They'll do it again here. I'm taking the SUNJ. Hey Vin, that means Rutgers.
Vinny: Thanks for the clarification. Pitt hasn't beaten anybody. Okay, Rutgers hasn't either. I hate to egg on your Jersey pride, but I'll take the points and the Knights.
Russell: So last week, I said Dennis Franchione was in trouble despite his team's 5-1 start. Then Texas A&M went out and beat previously undefeated Missouri, and now has a chance to get to 8-1 before playing Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas. I still think if the Aggies lose all three of those by considerable scores, that Franchione could be shown the door. But that's in the future. This week, A&M has to cope with the suddenly explosive Oklahoma State offense.
Vinny: You're assuming that Franchione won't jump to North Carolina, Michigan State or elsewhere before he's sacked at A&M.
Russell: You know Coach Fran is all about loyalty Vin. Just ask the folks in Tuscaloosa. Texas A&M is going to try and pound the ball with cartoonishly large tailback Jorvorskie Lane against the soft OK State run D. On defense, the Aggies have to cope with Adarius Bowman, who only had 300 yards receiving (and four touchdowns) against Kansas last week.
Vinny: I'm just heartened to know that there is still a Woods brother (D'Juan) in Stillwater. Woods hauled in the only other touchdown tossed by quarterback Bobby Reid (411 passing yards) against Kansas.
Russell: I'm not sold on A&M despite the win over Mizzou. But I trust Oklahoma State even less. The Cowboys' inability to stop the run will be their doom. I'm taking Texas A&M.
Vinny: Yeah, I can't figure out why the Cowboys are favored, even at home, in this one. New coordinator Gary Darnell has made the A&M defense into a respectable bunch. A&M cornerback Danny Gorrer should slow Bowman down enough for an Aggies cover.
Russell: Might as well save the best game of the day for last, as this should be an outstanding contest. Maybe the ACC didn't need to expand after all? I'm sure not too many people had this pegged as one of the games of the year in what was supposed to be a super-conference, but which has largely been a disappointment this year.
Vinny: I sure didn't. These are two head coaches (Chan Gailey and Tommy Bowden) who generally don't command much respect nationally. But with the hits that Larry Coker (lost control of his program) and Bobby Bowden (probably lost his mind a few years ago, if anyone can tell the difference) have been taking recently, they're probably behind only Frank Beamer in terms of esteem in the conference these days.
Russell: And if you saw the treatment Beamer's program got from Kirk Herbstreit a few weeks ago, I'm not sure you'd say that. To me, Beamer's close to heading down the Coker path. But back to this one, I like Reggie Ball, Tech's diminutive QB. But he's basically a 50% passer. Even so, receiver Calvin Johnson is putting up numbers worthy of Heisman consideration. I've been saying it all year, Johnson is more dominant at his position than any other player in college football.
Vinny: He's a freak, no doubt. Johnson has succeeded Reggie Bush as the college player who most looks like he's playing in a video game.
Russell: Georgia Tech's opponent last week, "bye," was tougher than Clemson's matchup against Temple. The Tigers can run the ball all day with James Davis and C.J. Spiller, and I'm not sure Tech's blitz-happy defense will be able to slow them down. Still, this is a big spread and the Jackets aren't afraid of playing on the road, having already won at Virginia Tech this year. These teams could well hook up again in the ACC title game, but round one goes to Clemson. I don't like the number, but I'll lay the points.
Vinny: Clemson has been hit with a slew of injuries, but the one-back system instituted by offensive coordinator Rob Spence has covered up a lot of those holes. In fact, the Tigers lead the nation in scoring. But I like John Tenuta's bunch to make this a ballgame. The Yellow Jackets cover.
Russell: I guess it's put up or shut up for us this week, as only your Wolverine paranoia prevented us from agreeing on seven of eight games.
Vinny: Uh, yeah. I'll be in my bunker if you need me.
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||Vinny Says||Russell Says|
|Texas A&M||+2||Oklahoma State||Texas A&M||Texas A&M|
|Georgia Tech||+7.5||Clemson||Georgia Tech||Clemson|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
154 comments, Last at 26 Oct 2006, 11:32am by Weekly Journalist