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.
04 Oct 2007
by Russell Levine
I like to complain about how much heartache Michigan has put me through over the years -- and I'm not exactly alone. Michigan fans, and fans of any program that is consistently good but rarely great, tend to grow dissatisfied even in victory. Every once in a while it helps to step back and try to gain some perspective as to just how spoiled you become rooting for one of college football's "haves."
Helping me see the light this week is Football Outsiders's own Michael David Smith. MDS (which is all we ever refer to him by over here) has the unfortunate distinction of rooting for both the University of Illinois and the Detroit Lions.
As such, he's become way too familiar with seasons of four or fewer wins. And yet, he comes back each year with renewed optimism. MDS was scheduled to be the guest on this week's podcast long before we knew that Illinois would have a huge game against Wisconsin this Saturday. Is he a Ron Zook believer? Will he take the bait -- and lay the points -- on his beloved Illini, who are actually favored against fifth-ranked Wisconsin?
For the answer to that question, you'll have to listen to this week's podcast. Here are the games we'll be discussing this week:
Which one of these teams is for real? Both are surprising entries in the top 11; South Carolina is there despite an early loss (a solid showing in a 12-point defeat by LSU two weeks ago).
Steve Spurrier's offenses have been underwhelming in his time at South Carolina, but he's up to his old tricks in one regard: playing musical QBs. Starring in the role of Danny Wuerffel is Chris Smelley, a highly touted recruit who has replaced the erratic Blake Mitchell. (Take your pick: He's either Terry Dean or, more likely, Noah Brindise in this analogy.)
Smelley appears to have given the offense a lift, and it'll be needed because there's no way the Gamecocks can hold the Kentucky offense and Andre' Woodson down enough to win a low-scoring affair. As for Woodson, another big performance here in a rare national-TV start for the Wildcats could be enough to put him firmly in front of the Heisman chase.
With LSU and Florida visiting the next two weeks, Kentucky SEC's East title hopes will take a major hit with a loss here.
Raise your hand if you thought Wisconsin would be an underdog in this game. I know point spreads are a very weak way to judge teams, but in this case I think Ilinois being favored over the supposed fifth-best team in the nation speaks volumes about the shakiness of the Badgers' play thus far.
Wisconsin has defensive issues and has not looked dominant at any point this season. They barely escaped with a win at home against Michigan State last week.
Illinois should be riding high after earning the biggest win of the Ron Zook era by beating Penn State last week. Is all that blue-chip talent Zook has brought to Champaign about to start paying huge dividends? We begin to learn the answer here.
Raise your hand if you thought these teams would have a better combined record than Oklahoma and Texas.
Kansas has played a schedule that would make Texas Tech's Mike Leach blush, so the fact the Jayhawks have bombed everyone in their path must be taken with a grain of salt the size of ginormous K-State QB Josh Freeman.
Kansas State whipped up on Texas last week, hanging 41 points on the Longhorns at home. This is a team that is growing in confidence. Their only loss was a narrow one, at Auburn in the opener. And the Wildcats have to be upset that they're still looking up at Texas in the polls despite having the same record and winning by three touchdowns.
Kansas is undefeated and will likely finally get some respect from the poll voters if they can pull the upset. But they'll have to do it in the hostile environment of ... The Power Towel.
The Red River Shootout certainly took a hit last week as both teams lost in shocking fashion.
Still, Texas's loss had to be less of a surprise, despite the large margin. The Longhorns have been flirting with disaster all year. Nobody saw Oklahoma's fall to Colorado coming, as the Sooners had been destroying everyone in their path.
Oklahoma probably still believes it can get to the national title game by winning out, but it's doubtful given the weakness of the Big 12. None of that will matter if the Sooners don't stomp Texas. With Texas quarterback Colt McCoy banged up, it's entirely possible OU does just that.
This might be the strangest line of the week. Tennessee has played two teams with a pulse and lost twice, including a 39-point shellacking at Florida. They've surrendered 105 points in those two losses (the other was at Cal to open the season). There are rumors that another loss could seal Phil Fulmer's fate as coach of the Vols, and you just get the sense that the wheels could come off the UT program at any point.
Yet the Vols are a narrow favorite over a Georgia team that appears to be moving in the other direction. The problem for Georgia has been offensive consistency, a somewhat forgivable sin given that Matthew Stafford is just a sophomore and is still maturing. The Bulldogs have had things clicking of late, and have scored 116 points in their last three outings. Stafford and friends must be thrilled at Tennessee's apparent complete lack of defense.
Tennessee has little trouble moving the ball, particularly through the air, and if the Vols get any kind of pass rush on Stafford, they maybe, just maybe, can outscore the Bulldogs. Problem is, Tennessee hasn't shown any ability to do that this year.
Rutgers, fresh off a stinging home defeat at the hands of Maryland, better get over its hurt in a hurry. South Florida is getting all the attention in the Big East, where the preseason big three of Rutgers, Louisville, and West Virginia combined for four losses in September. Cincinnati opened some eyes when it dismantled Oregon State four weeks ago, but can really make a splash with its second straight win over the Scarlet Knights.
Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, is in his first year with the Bearcats, can also make himself a hot name in coaching circles -- and a very wealthy man -- if his team can make some noise in the Big East this season. There could be job openings at some very marquee programs, and Kelly is good enough to be a candidate in places like Knoxville and Ann Arbor.
Greg Schiano of Rutgers could also be a candidate for those kinds of jobs -- don't be fooled into thinking he won't ever jump ship just because he turned down a chance to interview at Miami last year -- but not if Rutgers stumbles this season.
Back in September, most Big Ten pundits thought the conference had four contenders: Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Michigan and Penn State have combined for four losses, and though Wisconsin remains undefeated, the Badgers have hardly looked like world-beaters.
That leaves Ohio State, with another suffocating defense and an emerging offense, as the class of what is admittedly a pretty week conference.
Purdue represents the stiffest challenge yet for the Ohio State defense. Will it matter? Purdue should get some yards and points, but the Buckeyes may have a clear advantage on the other side of the ball when their offense takes on the Boilermaker defense.
This is now an elimination game for Florida if it has any hopes of defending its 2006 national title. The strength of the SEC -- at least in the minds of voters who barely punished the Gators for losing at home to unranked, two-loss Auburn -- means Florida can win out, presumably sweeping two meetings from LSU along the way -- and get to the title game in New Orleans.
But Florida won't get a sniff of the flesh-and-beads parade in the Big Easy if it doesn't do something about a defense that has real issues defending the pass. It's not just the secondary, either. Florida is giving opposing quarterbacks too much time to throw against its inexperienced cornerbacks. That combustible mix was enough to make Auburn's Brandon Cox look like a seasoned pro last week.
Things will be much worse if the same issues present themselves against LSU. The Tigers' tendency to go flat for long stretches against lesser teams is a concern, but they are monsters on both sides of the ball. LSU wants revenge for a meltdown in Gainesville last season. Get it, and they're halfway to New Orleans.
Or, alternately, download the MP3 by clicking on the icon below:
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||MDS Says||Russell Says|
|Kansas||+3||Kansas State||Kansas||Kansas State|
|Ohio State||-7||Purdue||Ohio State||Ohio State*|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
223 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2007, 12:51pm by CA