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.
01 Jan 2007
by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine
Russell: The readers have spoken, Vin. Looks like it's back to the good, old-fashioned printed word after a couple weeks of dabbling in these new-fangled podcasts. (You can still listen below)
Vinny: Come on, really? Just when I was refining my impressions of Gushberger ("alllriiiiggghhtttt!"), Dick Vermeil ("Nice job, young man!") and Jim Donnan ("uhhhh...."). I was going to be the new audio-only college version of Frank Caliendo. It's a niche market. But lucrative.
Russell: After 27 mostly meaningless bowls, we've gotten down to the good stuff. We'll cover the first four BCS games here, and then do a special edition of SDA next week on the championship game between Florida and some other team.
Vinny: Ooph. I still haven't sorted out my emotional baggage (about the size of the Tumi catalog) for that one. In the meantime, I've been trying to solve the mystery of whether BC interim coach Frank Spaziani is really just former NYC police commish Bernie Kerik in disguise.
Russell: Tumi? Wow, I knew I should have gone to law school. Vin, I understand you'll be in the Arroyo Seco Monday afternoon. Hopefully you've secured better accommodations then the last time we were there together. I don't know about you, but that might be the only time I've ever stayed at a hotel that advertised "Free Playboy" on the marquee.
Vinny: It was the Regal Inn Motel! It had "regal" in its name -- it had to be a nice place. You just can't argue with that logic. Well, maybe you can. The extra charge for the telephone and the hourly room option were somewhat disconcerting at check-in. And I still wake up with nightmares that I contracted the Andromeda Strain from the beds in that place.
Russell: Oooh, a one-star rating! Nice pick, Vin.
Russell: Let's get one thing straight off the bat. I don't buy for a second that either team in this game is going to be flat because they're disappointed to be in Pasadena instead of Glendale. Maybe on December 3, but not on January 1. The significance of the Rose Bowl to the Big Ten and Pac-10 is such that it could never be viewed as a consolation prize.
Vinny: Indeed. And USC is hearing the whispers (or shouts) about the end of its dynasty. The Trojans want to prove that they're still a force to be reckoned with and that they're not on some downward spiral back to mediocrity. Before the season, I was convinced that they would lose at least three games trying to replace Leinart, Bush and White. Halfway through the season, I looked dead wrong (per usual). Now, it's a possibility. Meanwhile, USC's total offense has gone from an insane 580 yards per game last year to a mortal 388 yards per game this year.
Russell: For Michigan, a win over USC means the chance to finish second in the polls behind the only team it lost to. I also think the winner here could be ranked first in the preseason polls next year, particularly if Ohio State beats Florida (the young Gators would be the likely No. 1 team coming off a national championship).
Vinny: That is certainly the talk. Michigan also got handled 28-14 by USC in their last Rose Bowl matchup in 2003. And it wasn't as close as the score. Only a few senior players on the current squads were involved in that one, but the coaching staffs and fans remember it well. Of course, USC claimed a share of its first national championship under Pete Carroll with that convincing win.
Russell: Michigan has to be licking its chops after watching the USC-UCLA film. UCLA got after John David Booty with their speed-rushing defensive ends and completely stifled the USC passing game. The Trojans have struggled with good pass-rushing teams all year, and Michigan's front seven is the best they've faced, because they bring pressure with not just the ends, but with pocket-collapsing tackle Alan Branch as well.
Vinny: This may be Branch's finale for Michigan before he bolts for the NFL, and he probably should as a projected top-ten pick. He'll be going up against a solid interior line for USC led by senior center Ryan Kalil. Tailback Chauncey Washington is healthy, but he and C.J. Gable don't exactly strike fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators. Certainly not Ron English, with the best run defense in the country. But Michigan wasn't focused on Antonio Pittman or Chris Wells and they both had long touchdown scampers that proved decisive in Ohio State's victory. The Wolverines definitely need better safety play against USC. (Ryan Mundy, http://www.infosports.com/football/arch/2674.htm " target="_blank">please click here).
Russell: Brian from mgoblog doesn't refer to it as "Yards after Mundy" for nothing, Vin. After Ohio State torched Michigan, I have some nightmares about Dwayne Jarrett and Co. running free through the Michigan secondary. But I think Leon Hall's play will improve -- his performance against the Buckeyes might have cost him several million dollars in signing bonus money. And it wasn't so much the Ohio State receivers that hurt Michigan as it was Troy Smith, who took whatever the defense gave him and killed Michigan 10 yards at a time. Booty is more of a downfield thrower, and he tends to look at the pass rush if it gets to him. Advantage, Michigan.
Vinny: Jarrett grabs the headlines with his freakish ability, but Steve Smith is just as dangerous. He reminds me of Ohio State's Anthony Gonazlez with his route-running, sure hands and underrated speed. I doubt USC's offensive braintrust (Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian) will adopt the five-wide approach that Jim Tressel used against Michigan, but they know Michigan's Achilles' heel is the secondary. I don't expect the Trojans to be as passive with their gameplan as they were against the Bruins.
Russell: On offense, Michigan can't afford to become one-dimensional. Mike Hart needs to have some success, but that doesn't mean the Wolverines look to establish the run early. They might come out throwing as they did against Ohio State. Either way, I think Michigan wins this one on defense. Booty will toss a few picks after the rush gets to him, and Michigan wins it going away for both Bo and former team MVP Gerald Ford. RIP, Mr. President, and kudos to you, sir, for making "Hail to the Victors" a part of your funeral service.
Vinny: Caroll has called this Trojan defense the quickest and best he's coached, but I don't buy it. There's no way this unit is equal to the Kenechi Udeze, Mike Patterson, Lofa Tatupu defenses of 2003-04. Sedrick Ellis can wreak havoc on the interior but end Lawrence Jackson is a little over-hyped if you ask me. And as Oregon State's Matt Moore showed, USC's secondary can be had. I expect Chad Henne to find Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington and Steve Breaston early and often as coordinator Mike DeBord unleashes a pass-happy attack. I think this will be an instant classic that Michigan actually wins.
Russell: I'm actually looking forward to watching this game, and I'm glad that this time around, the "mid-major" BCS party-crasher is facing top competition, unlike Utah which crushed overmatched Pittsburgh in the Fiesta two years ago. Boise State has a lot to prove taking on an Oklahoma team that, as it turned out, would have been in the thick of the national-title chase if not for some brutal replay calls in their early-season loss at Oregon.
Vinny: The Broncos are undefeated thanks to their WAC schedule and another home rout of Oregon State back in September. In previous years, they were a different team away from home. But other than a close scare at San Jose State, they took care of business off the Smurf Turf. We'll see if that holds true against the Sooners.
Russell: Boise doesn't have to win this game to prove it belongs. The Broncos just have to be able to compete -- unlike their ill-fated trip to Georgia to begin the 2005 season. Jared Zabransky committed six first-half turnovers in a 48-13 loss. But I'm less worried about Zabransky -- who I think has grown from that experience -- than I am about the Boise defense that must cope with Adrian Peterson and his talented backups in the Oklahoma backfield.
Vinny: True enough. With the exception of the Big XII title game against Nebraska, the Sooners did just fine on the ground without Peterson. Both Allen Patrick and Chris Brown (4.4 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively) showed what they could do.
Russell: I don't see Boise slowing down the Oklahoma offense much -- not with Peterson back, and not with Paul Thompson playing as well as he has all year. Thompson has been one of my favorite players this season, stepping in from receiver to save the Sooners after Rhett Bomar was kicked off the team. I do have some concerns about the Oklahoma defense, which has been vulnerable to the big play this year. I can see Ian Johnson ripping off some big runs in this one.
Vinny: He'll have to, because Zabransky won't be able to do much otherwise. Everything for Boise State depends on the success of their smashmouth approach. Center Jadon Dailey is confident that the Broncos can get to the second level against the Sooners. Oklahoma is already somewhat acquainted with Boise State's offense after having played Colorado (coached by former Broncos' coach Dan Hawkins) this year.
Russell: I think Boise will give a good account of itself, and I can see this being a game at halftime. It's important that Boise play well. The addition of a fifth BCS game means that most years, a mid-major team will qualify. But I still think the BCS has designs on turning that fifth game into a championship of a four-team playoff, and it will be easier to take away the new access from the non-BCS leagues if they get killed in these games.
Vinny: Take it easy, Russ. I think you've had too many conversations with Robert Ericsson.
Russell: I think the seven-point line shows great respect for Boise, but Oklahoma has too much talent, and Peterson's return is the icing on the cake. Although I think he's crazy to risk injury in this game when he'd be a top NFL pick either way, I expect Peterson to have an impact as Oklahoma puts away the stubborn Broncos in the second half and covers the spread.
Vinny: I expect both offenses to have a big day. I want to pick the Broncos, but ... screw it: give me Boise State and the points.
Russell: Welcome to the FedEx Orange Bowl! Winning coach gets to tell Mal Moore he'll coach Alabama for $5 million a year. This game would have been more appealing had Rutgers topped West Virginia, but we've still got Wake Forest, the most overachieving team in the nation this year behind head coach Jim Grobe.
Vinny: Well, it's the day after New Year's Day and a Tuesday night. So I'll watch. But then, I'm home right now on a Saturday night and I'm watching Ronin on Telemundo ("Seppu... seppu... Â¿que?"). So what else do I have to do?
Russell: Umm, you need to get out more. Wake is great story. You watch them play and you think, "this team isn't very good." They don't do one thing particularly well and they often looked like they were getting outplayed, no matter the caliber of the opposition -- they needed a blocked field goal in the final seconds to hang on against Duke, for example. But add it up, and this team is somehow 11-2 and ACC champs -- although I'm not sure if that says more about Wake Forest or the ACC.
Vinny: I'm thinking the latter, especially after watching Clemson lay down against Kentucky. The Deacons aren't terribly exciting. They rank fourth nationally in turnover margin and play solid special teams. Cinemax star Sam Swank has netted 21-of-28 field goals this season, including three of over 50 yards to beat N.C. State.
Russell: I give Wake Forest a puncher's chance in this game. Alright, maybe it's a George Foreman vs. Michael Moorer puncher's chance, but it's a chance. Unfortunately for Wake, this is an awful matchup against Louisville's big-play, pass-happy offense. Wake's smallish corners, Alphonso Smith and Riley Swanson, must contend with 6-foot-6 receiver Mario Urrutia, whose name may sound like a scary medical procedure but whose game is just play scary. Louisville also has a 6-foot-6 tight end, Gary Barnidge, whom Wake's 72nd-ranked pass defense must contend with. They better get after Brian Brohm or this could be a very long day.
Vinny: I don't like their chances of doing that against another solid offensive line for Louisville. Brohm has only struggled once this season, and that was the road ambush in Piscataway against a very good Rutgers defense. Wake has forced 22 interceptions, but that's probably as much a function of playing lousy quarterbacks in the ACC as anything. Louisville has some great youngsters in freshman Anthony Allen (12 touchdowns) and 19-year old senior defensive tackle Amobi Okoye (six sacks, 12 tackles for loss).
Russell: Yeah, Louisville just has too much talent. They'll be plenty motivated despite backing into this game; after all, it's not like BCS bids are old hat for the Louisville program. Riley Skinner will string some drives together and Wake will have some success with a bend-don't-break defense, but it'll be too much Brohm in the end. I like Louisville big, and I'll make this my Freddy lock of the BCS games. After it's over, Bobby Petrino and Grobe can trade real-estate agents' cards at midfield.
Vinny: Agreed. It's been a great year for Wake, but the Cardinals have too much firepower. Louisville coasts to an easy win. I'll make this my Fred Edelstein Lock as well.
Russell: Question for you, Vin. If you took all Notre Dame's players and even uber-genius coach Charlie Weis and put them in Washington State garb and gave them the same exact results this season, what do you think the line would be on this game? 16? 20?
Vinny: I'm guessing at least two touchdowns.
Russell: My point is, the line reflects a great respect for the size of Notre Dame's fan base. Everyone knows that Notre Dame got killed against the only two really good teams it played this year -- Michigan (47-21!!!! Pwnd!!!), and USC -- but it's more than that. The secondary was torched by UCLA, Purdue, and Michigan State. Brady Quinn's numbers were terrific at the end of the year, but he was beyond bad until garbage time against the Wolverines and Trojans, and his performance against Michigan State was nothing to be too proud of either. LSU has every bit as much talent as Michigan and USC, maybe more. Notre Dame hasn't won a bowl game since the 1993 season. Should I go on?
Vinny: Point taken. The Tigers have one of the best defenses in the country (third in passing efficiency and total defense, fifth in scoring defense). This is a quick, relentless group that can easily overwhelm the Irish offensive line. Senior free safety LaRon Landry has 16 tackles for loss, including eight sacks. And junior defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey could make the jump to the NFL after Wednesday night.
Russell: I'll concede that Weis is an excellent coach and the program is in better shape than it has been at any time since Holtz last cared (circa 1993). In the coaching matchup against Les "I need to bend my brim" Miles, Weis gets a healthy nod. But coaching can only do so much. LSU's D-line will be all over Quinn, and we all know what happens to BQ's game when he starts to get hit (Yakety Sax). Notre Dame receivers need to start preparing for balls in the dirt or 10 feet over their heads. Lets hope the FOX announcers can avoid a 15-minute testament to Quinn's courage as he's going 2-for-11 for seven yards while LSU builds a three-score lead. Sure, it takes courage to take a beating and keep getting up, but it doesn't take skill to stink up the joint while doing so.
Vinny: LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell may join Dorsey in declaring for the draft after this game. Most have Russell and Quinn as the top two quarterbacks on the board (I would still trade down and take Troy Smith). Russell has had a terrific year, completing 68.5 percent of his passes and tossing 26 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. He had a couple rough games against two very good defenses (Florida, Tennessee) but has carved up everyone else. The running game hasn't been great, but LSU still had the ninth-ranked scoring offense in the country. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher interviewed for the UAB job (nixed by Alabama boosters?) and now is being linked to the FSU offensive coordinator gig. Too many distractions for the Tigers?
Russell: That's not just "Alabama boosters," that's Paul Bryant, Jr. You gotta love football in the South. Anyway, I don't think LSU will be too distracted. It's probably no secret which way I'm leaning. LSU should win huge in this one, and they're my pick to cover. I should probably make them my Freddy, but it's only my fear that the whole world seems to share my opinion on this one that prevents me from doing so.
Vinny: I'm rooting for an entertaining game so hopefully Quinn can connect with Jeff Samardzija often enough. And maybe Rhema McKnight got some hands for Christmas. But yes, I'm going with the Tigers to cover.
Looking for the podcast discussing the non-BCS games? You can find it below.
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||Vinny Says||Russell Says|
|Outback Bowl (Tampa), Monday, January 1, 11 a.m. ET ESPN|
|AT&T Cotton Bowl (Dallas), Monday, January 1, 11:30 a.m. ET FOX|
|Capital One Bowl (Orlando), Monday, January 1, 1 p.m. ET ABC|
|Toyota Gator Bowl (Jacksonville), Monday, January 1, 1 p.m. ET CBS|
|West Virginia||-10||Georgia Tech||West Virginia||West Virginia|
|Rose Bowl (Pasadena), Monday, January 2, 5 p.m. ET ABC|
|Fiesta Bowl (Glendale), Monday, January 1, 8:30 p.m. ET FOX|
|Boise State||+7||Oklahoma||Boise State||Oklahoma|
|Orange Bowl (Miami), Tuesday, January 2, 8 p.m. ET FOX|
|Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), Wednesday, January 3, 8 p.m. ET FOX|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Note: Numbers will be updated following the completion of all the non-BCS games.
|Last Week||Season Total|
333 comments, Last at 06 Jan 2007, 3:50pm by Trogdor