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?
08 Nov 2007
by Russell Levine
So, this isn't quite the marquee weekend for college football. Need evidence? College Gameday will originate from Williamstown, Mass., home of the Williams-Amherst game. If they wanted to take in D-III football, couldn't Kirk, Lee, and Chris have just gone to Notre Dame?
(Thanks, I'll be here all week. Try the fish.)
But the weekend isn't entirely bereft of quality matchups. And once again, many of them are in the SEC. So it's only fitting that this week's podcast guest has SEC ties.
Warren St. John -- a friend of this column going back a few years now -- writes for the New York Times and is also the author of the classic college football book Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer. More recently, he's penned -- with contributions from EDSBS's Orson Swindle/Spencer Hall, among others -- the ESPN Guide to Psycho Fan Behavior, guaranteed to be the only stocking stuffer that can teach you how to properly torch a couch.
Warren, who also blogs about irrational fan behavior on his web site, has emerged from his post-LSU malaise to help break down the following games:
Louisville's win over West Virginia in a battle of undefeated teams was one of the biggest games of 2006. This year? Not so much.
Louisville's national-title dreams have been done in by a horrid defense that has been largely responsible for four losses. West Virginia saw its championship dreams take an early hit with a loss at South Florida, but the Mountaineers are hanging around the pack of once-beaten teams, hoping for this season's string of upsets to continue so they can sneak into the title game.
Louisville has played better of late, but it's defense could be exposed once again by Steve Slaton, Noel Devine, and Pat White on Thursday night.
Technically, this game has no bearing on the Big Ten race. By beating its
rival little brother Michigan State last Saturday, Michigan assured itself that it will be playing for a berth in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State next week.
Still, a win at Wisconsin means the Wolverines could claim an outright Big Ten title with a win over the Buckeyes. Plus, Michigan still has an outside shot at a BCS at-large berth if it wins in Madison and then drops a tight game against the Buckeyes.
Chad Henne and Mike Hart are expected to play with nagging injuries for Michigan, while tailback P.J. Hill is questionable for the Badgers. Wisconsin typically favors the straight-ahead, no-frills offense that is tailor-made for Michigan's defense, but quarterback Tyler Donovan is mobile enough to keep the unit on its toes.
Hart has been all over the news for that "little brother" remark this week, one that drew Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio into a surprising war of words. Hart is one of those players you can only love if he's on your team. This is not he first cringe-inducing statement to come from his mouth, but the Wolverines feed off his intensity, and it was his guarantee of a win over Notre Dame following the 0-2 start that sparked the Michigan turnaround.
This is my column, so I get the last word on Hart. If he played for Ohio State or Notre Dame, I'd despise him, but I'd like to think I could admire the way he put a struggling team on his back and for how he runs with a fire and intensity that comes from a lifetime of being told "you're too small" and "you're too slow." He will be sorely missed in Ann Arbor.
Warren's Tide have little time to recover from the disappointment of the last-minute loss to LSU in the Nick Saban bowl, as they face dangerous Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have already beaten both Kentucky and Auburn on the road this season, and now get reeling Alabama at home with a chance to get bowl-eligible.
Sylvester Croom is turning into a poster child for why it sometimes pays to be patient with a struggling coach. He took over a disastrous situation at Mississippi State and had little success his first three seasons. It is only now, in year four, that he is starting pay dividends.
This game should be personal for Croom. A great player at Alabama and a former assistant there, he felt he should have gotten the job over Mike Shula a few years back. Instead, he had to wait for a far worse opportunity in Starkville, making a pittance of Nick Saban's $4 million.
I'm not saying Croom is in Saban's class as a coach, but the whole situation has to eat at him. Expect the Bulldogs to be ready to play Saturday.
Darren McFadden, welcome back to the Heisman discussion. Please assume your place at the head of the line.
The player nicknamed "Humanity Advanced" could find the soft Tennessee defense (74th against the run) much to his liking this week.
What a strange year for the Vols. They've lost three games, all in blowouts, yet control their own destiny in the SEC East. Still, you get the feeling one more bad loss could be the death knell for Phil Fulmer.
Was that the real Florida State we saw against Boston College last week? Was that the real Drew Weatherford?
Speaking of, was that the real Sean Glennon (wearing his Halloween costume, no less) against Georgia Tech last week?
These are two of the nation's more confounding quarterbacks, and Florida State is the nation's most confounding team. They've put together two very solid efforts in a row -- led by Weatherford and the defense -- in wins over Duke and Boston College. Can they make it three?
Speaking of confounding teams, there's a pair in this matchup. You have Auburn, conquerors of Florida, challengers of LSU, yet losers to Mississippi State and South Florida. On the other side, Georgia, which crushed Florida, yet got smoked at Tennessee.
Georgia needs to win out and have Tennessee lose a game to get to the SEC championship. Auburn won't be there in Atlanta, but the Tigers might, just might, be able to grab an at-large BCS bid if they win out.
Georgia's Knowshon Moreno has had back-to-back career games, but not against the likes of Auburn's defense.
Kansas has the best opportunity of any of the contenders for the national-title game to make an impression down the stretch. They have this game, which will be shown to most of the nation in prime time, plus games against Missouri and potentially Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship.
Win all of them, and that's the kind of season-closing resume that might make it hard for even the most stubborn of pollsters to keep ranking Kansas behind LSU and Oregon -- particularly if the Tigers keep winning white-knuckle affairs.
Kansas's early schedule was a joke, but we'll know if they're for real by season's end. In the meantime they're a balanced team -- the only school in the nation ranked in the top 10 in both total offense and defense -- which is hitting its stride (76 points against Nebraska last week).
Oklahoma State is completely one-sided: great offense, miserable defense. This could be another high-scoring blowout for the Jayhawks, even on the road.
Much like Kansas, Hawaii has ridden a ridiculously easy schedule to an undefeated record and possible BCS berth. Another similarity: The Warriors have their best opportunity to impress over the season's final month, when they will play the best of the WAC (Fresno, Nevada, and Boise State) as well as Washington out of the Pac-10.
Just as importantly, all four games are schedule to air on ESPN or ESPN2, which means both the poll voters and Heisman balloters get a chance to watch Hawaii, and quarterback Colt Brennan, rather than just read the box scores.
Fresno has a decent running attack and will try to pound Hawaii and keep Brennan on the bench. New Mexico State tried that approach two weeks ago without much success. They possessed the ball for 39 minutes, but lost 50-13.
As Warren says in the podcast, Hawaii kickoffs on national TV are the bane of football widows everywhere. Personally, I look forward to seeing at least one or two possessions before dozing off into blissful sleep on my couch. Maybe I'll wake up in time to catch the fourth quarter.
Or, alternately, download the MP3 by clicking on the icon below:
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||Warren Says||Russell Says|
|Louisville||+16||West Virginia||West Virginia||West Virginia|
|Florida State||+6||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech||Florida State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
119 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2007, 9:11pm by Alex