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.
23 Nov 2006
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: I've had a few days to absorb Football Armageddon. I tend to agree with Brian from mgoblog. I'm spent. Just spent. After a game like that, I sometimes wonder why exactly it is that I care so much about something so inconsequential. Reading some of the other blogs this week, it was comforting to know that I'm not alone. To know that choosing to skip any of the viewing parties I was invited to, and instead spend the game watching alone with my anguish (and my kids making fun of me), hardly makes me unique.
Vinny: I've come to grips with it. Bo's passing puts things in perspective. Troy Smith was his usual infallible self (for three quarters anyway) and Cheatypants McSweatervest put together another great offensive game plan. The Bucks were the better team. On that particular day. Facing a grief-stricken opponent. At home. OK, so I haven't completely come to grips with it.
Russell: Obviously not. I can't even really get into the whole rematch-no rematch debate. Sure, I wrote about it Monday, but I'm not exactly waiting with bated breath for BCS selection show. I feel like Michigan just played the championship game, and lost.
Vinny: No argument here. But if USC blows it against the Irish at home, and Florida can't close the deal against a bad Seminoles team and then Arkansas in the SEC title game...
Russell: Don't get me wrong, if Notre Dame wins and we somehow end up in Glendale, I'm not exactly going to ignore it. But that's six weeks away. For now, there are still some interesting Thanksgiving weekend matchups, including the most significant game remaining on the regular-season calendar. We've got a season to finish here.
Russell: It was fun to kick Miami while they were down, but that ended when Bryan Pata was murdered two weeks ago. Watching the Hurricanes play out the string is just sad. I'm not sure even their biggest rivals are taking much pleasure in watching a team that can't get to the end of the season fast enough. Even the short-lived "Spurrier to Miami" rumors last Sunday didn't generate much interest. This program needs a collective holiday.
Vinny: I think Larry Coker started to lose his team during the 40-3 pasting Miami took at the hands of LSU in last year's Peach Bowl. If Coker does get the double doors, it will be after his counterpart in the ugly brawl earlier this season, Florida International's Don Strock announced his resignation. Going winless didn't help.
Russell: Boston College is one of the more underappreciated teams this season. Last week's smackdown of Maryland put the ACC title game within reach for the Eagles, who probably never dreamt they'd be road favorites at the Orange Bowl. Boston College must win, and hope for Maryland to beat Wake Forest Saturday to earn a date against Georgia Tech in Jacksonville.
Vinny: I'm not sure that slapping around your opponent is the way to build their confidence for their next game. For the 'Canes, sophomore Kirby Freeman gets his third straight start with Kyle Wright out with his thumb injury.
Russell: Something tells me Miami isn't exactly fired up to play for a berth in the MPC Computers Bowl. If I'm Coker, I'm running the ball every play. It might get the season over a half-hour quicker. The results will be the same. Boston College wins by at least a touchdown, picking up their first win over the 'Canes since the Hail Flutie game 22 years ago.
Vinny: I'm expecting the Eagles' receiving corps of Kevin Challenger, Tony Gonzalez and Brandon Robinson to have a big day against the Miami secondary. BC rolls (my Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week).
Russell: I know I've been clubbing this idea to death like a baby seal, but I still maintain Dennis Franchione is in trouble at Texas A&M. The Aggies got to eight wins by beating nobody better than Missouri, and are on a two-game losing streak -- both by one point -- to Oklahoma and Nebraska. Hanging with the Big 12 heavyweights is nice, but sooner or later, Coach Fran is going to have to beat one of them to hold off the dogs.
Vinny: Thanks for the lovely imagery, Russ. It didn't help that both of those close losses for the Aggies were at home. A&M has lost three games by a total of only six points this year, and the Aggies have already guaranteed themselves of their best record since at least 2001. But Franchione has a 1-11 record against Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Texas since he took over the program. So a win over Texas would give him a welcome break from the hate mail for a couple weeks.
Russell: Texas's loss to K-State two weeks ago re-opened an all-but-decided Big 12 South race. Texas needs this win to clinch a berth in the Big 12 championship opposite Nebraska. Colt McCoy will be back in the lineup after missing much of the Kansas State game, and he should have plenty of time to throw behind a senior-led offensive line.
Vinny: Despite that veteran line, Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young haven't had big years. Texas ranks just fifth in the Big Twelve in rushing offense. Maybe they can get untracked this week against the very average A&M run defense.
Russell: The Aggies have a decent ground attack with tackle-sized back Jorvorskie Lane, but if they're going to pull off the upset, it will be through the air. Kansas State was the latest team to torch the Longhorns secondary, and Stephen McGee is capable of doing the same. Will it be enough? I say no. Texas wins going away to cover the number and run its winning streak against the Aggies to seven.
Vinny: Yep, A&M is going up against the top run defense in the country (thanks to Michigan's matador defense on those two long touchdown runs by the Buckeyes last week -- dammit!) in Texas (allowing 42 yards per game). Still, this is a decent-sized spread. I'm going to take a flyer on the Aggies and the points in this rivalry game.
Russell: Popular opinion seems to be that Arkansas is the best team in the SEC. Well, popular opinion doesn't weigh in Las Vegas, where the Tigers are one-point road favorites over the SEC's darlings. That kind of respect -- or lack thereof -- tells me it's going to be an uphill climb for Arkansas to get to No. 2 in the BCS.
Vinny: It's nothing new for the Hogs. I imagine they wouldn't get much respect nationally until they beat Florida in the SEC title game. But this one is for the Golden Boot! And they're playing it in Little Rock, where LSU prevailed over Arkansas in 2004.
Russell: Golden Boot, huh? That's no Floyd of Rosedale. Arkansas has won 10 straight games on the strength of its running game and a defense that has allowed 12 points per contest after USC hung 50 on the board in the opener. It's that loss, of course, that has Arkansas somewhat boxed in in the BCS equation. Win out, and they'll still be behind USC. If USC loses, they'll be in line behind Michigan.
Vinny: Their running game will likely have to do without starting fullback Peyton Hillis, who's a jack of all trades in the Arkansas offense. Hillis is doubtful for this tilt with a deep thigh bruise -- is there another kind of thigh bruise? (Of course, I played flag football on Monday night for the first time since college and I can barely get out of bed in the morning). At least left guard Stephen Parker is back in the lineup.
Russell: LSU has a scary-good defense, but it hasn't faced a rushing attack the likes of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones this season. Arkansas better run the ball, since McFadden seems to be the only guy able to throw it effectively. I see this game coming down to the wire like the LSU-Tennessee result a few weeks ago. JaMarcus Russell will pull this one out for LSU in the final minutes as well.
Vinny: McFadden has to be the most valuable player in the country -- I have a hard time believing Arkansas would even have seven wins without him running, receiving, throwing and returning. I like the Hogs to notch another surprise in edging the Tigers.
Russell: What the heck has happened to Oregon? The Ducks were considered a Pac-10 title contender after "beating" Oklahoma in September. Maybe their current two-game losing streak is cosmic payback for the calls that went against the Sooners. Oregon State has won five of its last six -- including handing USC its only loss.
Vinny: The Beavers can clinch third place in the Pac-10 with a win here, and that would probably send them to the Sun Bowl, where they've never played before. Their opponent would come from the Big 12 or Big East, and it could be Rutgers.
Russell: Are you fishing for another Jersey pride remark from me? I'm still holding out for RU in the Orange Bowl. The Ducks' demise can be traced to the play of quarterback Dennis Dixon. He was a dynamic run-pass threat early in the season; lately he's morphed into a turnover machine and may get benched in favor of Brady Leaf for the Civil War. Mike Bellotti isn't talking.
Vinny: Dixon leads the Pac-10 with 13 interceptions, and has thrown eight picks (to only one touchdown) in the last five games. If Bellotti does go to the bullpen for Leaf, it would remove the running threat from the quarterback position. For Oregon State, Matt Moore hasn't thrown a pick since the Beaver's 17-10 win over Arizona on October 21. He'll be facing a pretty solid Oregon pass defense.
Russell: This is a very underrated rivalry game -- plenty of hate between the hippies out Oregon way. Oregon State has won five of six in the series, and I think they make it six of seven on the strength of Yvenson Bernard, who will run wild against Oregon's soft run D. Oregon State covers.
Vinny: The home team has won nine consecutive games in this series. Make it ten. The Beavers win going away.
Russell: Oklahoma remains alive for the Big 12 South, but the Sooners will know their fate going into this one, as Texas plays Friday. A Texas loss, combined with an Oklahoma win puts the Sooners in the championship game. But OU can't overlook the Cowboys, who can score points in a hurry, and who have given the Sooners plenty of trouble in recent years, winning two of the last four in Stillwater.
Vinny: But those Oklahoma State wins were back when Les Miles was running the show. Mike Gundy has the Cowboys bowl-eligible in his second year, but the heat is turning up in light of all the cash T. Boone Pickens has now thrown at the program.
Russell: How does a guy named "T. Boone" become a billionaire anyway? Only in America. Oklahoma quarterback Paul Thompson has been one of my favorite players this season. A receiver coming into the season, Thompson returned to QB to rescue the Sooners' season after Rhett Bomar was kicked off the team. He was supposed to be the team's weak spot, but he has played really well, and only that controversial loss to Oregon separates the Sooners from being in the national-title discussion.
Vinny: This season has to be Bob Stoops's best coaching job. And he has his defense getting back to where he wants it. For the Cowboys, it's all about offense, and their ground game has been impressive with Dantrell Savage, Mike Hamilton, Keith Toston and quarterback Bobby Reid all racking up more than 400 rushing yards.
Russell: Oklahoma needs to take care of the ball. Too many turnovers lately. If they can do that, I think the Sooners will chalk up another win the Bedlam series, and cover the number.
Vinny: Stoops's squad has never covered the spread in Stillwater. I think the Sooners snap that streak and win by a couple scores.
Russell: How about some love for Bronco Mendenhall for Coach of the Year honors, mid-major edition. He has the Cougars at 9-2 and 7-0 in Mountain West Conference play. More importantly, he has restored the glory days of Cougar offensive football, as this team averages 37 points per game. Somewhere, Robbie Bosco is smiling.
Vinny: And Gary Crowton is crying. (It doesn't help that he's coaching Dennis Dixon right now.) On the other side of the ball, BYU has given up its share of real estate but has forced 25 turnovers and is ninth in the country in scoring defense.
Russell: BYU has already won the Mountain West, but this is a grudge match, if such a thing is allowed in the state of Utah. Don't laugh. If you need a license to drink a beer, anything's possible. A win here will give the Cougars their first 10-win season since 2001, when they went 12-2 while playing an NFL schedule, apparently.
Vinny: The Cougars have already accepted an invitation to the Las Vegas Bowl, where they lost a 35-28 shootout to
UCLA Cal last year. Utah is still waiting for a bid, but the Utes are 5-0 in bowl games since 1999.
Russell: John Beck has become the latest in a long line of BYU passers to put up big numbers. He's second in the nation in passing efficiency and has the Cougar offense humming. But this is a rivalry game, and I'm going to invoke my first "double-digit home dog" pick of the entire season. I like Utah and the points, as two-way star Eric Weddle has an impact on both sides of the ball.
Vinny: The Utes have to be concerned about stopping Beck after they yielded over 200 yards passing to Air Force last week. They probably just over-committed to stopping the triple option, but that's still unsettling. Meanwhile, Beck publicly guaranteed a victory in this game. Good enough for me. BYU wins (and covers).
Russell: All that stands between Boise and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl is a road date at pesky Nevada. And talk about feast or famine: A loss here likely means falling all the way back to Boise for the MPC Computers Bowl.
Vinny: I hear the MPC folks are worried that Broncos fans don't travel well.
Russell: Nevada comes in on a roll, having won eight of its last nine. But the Wolfpack have taken up semi-permanent residence out behind Boise's woodshed. The Broncos have averaged 51 points in the last six meetings, all wins. Plus, they get stud tailback Ian Johnson back for this one after he suffered a partially collapsed lung against San Jose State two weeks ago.
Vinny: He's back from a collapsed lung in two weeks? Who's the Boise State team doctor? Dr. Nick Riviera?
Russell: Boise has come too far to let this opportunity slip from its grasp. Jared Zabransky will once again carve up the Wolfpack defense, and the Boise D will limite the damage from Nevada's "pistol" offense. Boise wins big to crash the BCS party (Fred Edelstein lock)..
Vinny: Zabransky is 31-5 as a starter, and boasts a passer rating above 160. I'm still betting that being away from the Smurf Turf will limit the Broncos somewhat. So I'll take a gamble on Nevada and hope that Wolfpack defensive end J.J. Milan (nine sacks) makes it tough going for Zabransky.
Russell: Vin, for amusement this week, I've been engaging various Notre Dame fans I know into a debate as to how the Irish can get to the BCS title game. You should try this -- every single argument comes back to Michigan 47, Notre Dame 21. Sad? Sure. But it's all I have left after Ohio State pwnd Michigan again last week. And while I may wish that Notre Dame wins, you won't find me screaming for the Irish Saturday night. That's simply not in my DNA. Let the chips fall where they will.
Vinny: I know it's not likely, but if Notre Dame clobbers the Trojans, just absolutely crushes them, would that convince the voters to put them into the national title conversation? Like you said, I don't know how they get past the pasting by Michigan in South Bend, even though that was two months ago. And it could be ugly again versus a defense with this kind of talent, led by junior defensive end Lawrence Jackson.
Russell: It was good to see Notre Dame finally find somebody it could beat while wearing the green jerseys last week as the Irish rolled over Army to get to 10-1. Brady Quinn had another big day, as he almost always does against bad teams, but Quinn is still without that signature performance against a top team. He gets one last regular-season opportunity here.
Vinny: The Irish defense has been mediocre at best, especially against the pass (81st in the nation in pass efficiency defense), but senior linemen Derek Landri and Victor Abiamiri have been very good in getting into the backfield and making plays. They're going to have to play even better this week, especially Abiamiri.
Russell: USC has it going on both sides of the ball ever since losing to Oregon State four weeks ago, and on paper I see this game as a rout for USC. John David Booty, Dwayne Jarrett (who's coming off a concussion) and Steve Smith should torch the lead-footed Notre Dame secondary. But still, I'm not discounting the Weis factor. I think this is personal for him. He hears the whispers about how the Irish haven't beaten a lot of good teams in his two seasons. I wouldn't be surprised if this was a back-and-forth game along the lines of last year's. The Irish will keep it close enough to cover, but USC's offense will carry the day -- and probably carry the Trojans to Glendale.
Vinny: Weis didn't have a bye week before playing USC this year. On the other hand, it's been two months (and a Commander-in-Chief's Trophy later) since he's had to be concerned about an opponent. Not that the Irish aren't always a motivated bunch under Weis, but they're going to come into the Coliseum with a chip on their shoulder. They've been universally dismissed as being out of the national title picture and as posing only a minor annoyance for USC on the way to Glendale. At the very least, I think this is another track meet. But Notre Dame will cover, and Booty could make enough mistakes to let the Irish pull the upset.
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||Vinny Says||Russell Says|
|Boston College||-4.5||Miami (Fla.)||Boston College*||Boston College|
|Texas A&M||+12.5||Texas||Texas A&M||Texas|
|Oregon||+3||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
|Boise State||-2.5||Nevada||Nevada||Boise State*|
|Notre Dame||+7.5||USC||Notre Dame||Notre Dame|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
228 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2006, 6:54pm by hrudey