Ben Roethlisberger's ability to perform under a heavy pass rush remains critical to Pittsburgh's offensive success.
27 Sep 2007
by Russell Levine
I survived my journey to SEC country and am back safely ensconced in SDA headquarters, where my trusty couch and I will bunker down for another college football bender this Saturday. Unfortunately, this one will not be accompanied by Elvis music, sundresses, or high heels.
Actually, the weekend action begins with a pretty good contest Friday night, as West Virginia visits up-and-coming South Florida. It continues Saturday with some key conference battles.
We're still early enough in the season that we don't know much about a lot of the undefeated teams, including three that are officially "on the radar" this week: Oregon, Clemson, and Michigan State. All three have a recent history of fast starts and miserable finishes. Will this year be any different? This week, we begin to find out.
To help me break down those contests, as well as all the big games this week, I'm joined on the SDA podcast by Football Outsiders's own Dave Lewin. You may know Dave from his college quarterback projection system, the Lewin career forecast. Gil Brandt certainly does.
Dave is a student at Macalester College, where he also played football. Between making projections for Vince Young and Kevin Kolb, and going to class, he also finds time to write for 82games.com and also watch a ton of college football.
Here are the games I'll discuss with Dave on the podcast:
South Florida stunned West Virginia in Morgantown last season, completely shutting down Steve Slaton and the Mountaineers' rushing attack along the way. That was one of three upsets the last two-plus seasons (2005 over Louisville; earlier this month at Auburn) to have put the USF program on the map.
A win by West Virginia here strengthens the Mountaineers' status as Big East favorite and national-title contender. If South Florida pulls another upset, the Bulls and Rutgers will likely vie for the conference's BCS bid.
Keep an eye on how many touches West Virginia finds for explosive freshman tailback Noel Devine, who already has some observers whispering that he might be better than Slaton.
No matter if they win this game, the Bulls have a program on the rise, and the building job coach Jim Leavitt has done in Tampa in such a short period of time is amazing.
This is my weekly "kick Notre Dame while its down" indulgence.
The Irish have become the greatest train wreck in college football, as casual observers tune in to see if the Irish can cover any of the ever-growing spreads they face. The numbers are hideous. The Irish have the nation's 119th-ranked rushing offense, 117th-ranked pass offense, 119th-ranked total offense, and 111th-ranked rush defense. (Keep in mind there are currently 119 teams in Division I-A). Looking for a bright spot? They're ranked fourth against the pass, but even that is most likely a mirage.
We'll find out Saturday if ND actually has a pass defense or if they just haven't been tested because it's been so easy to run on the Irish. Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter should be able to sit back in the pocket, do a little calculus homework, scan the field, and deliver to his choice of open receiver.
Even I may have to call off the dogs if Notre Dame suffers a fifth straight blowout loss to start the season.
Oregon is the first of my three "on the radar" teams this week. The Ducks are off to a surprising fast start, and their blowout win at Michigan just gained some added meaning after the Wolverines edged Penn State last week.
Dennis Dixon is playing lights-out at quarterback for Oregon, but this is the same man that kept losing playing time to Ryan Leaf's little brother the last couple years. Has the light really gone off for him? Or will he, and the Ducks, implode as has been their M.O. the last several seasons?
Cal mugged Tennessee in the opener, but has defensive questions. The Bears have given up nearly 25 points per game to a schedule that isn't exactly loaded with offensive juggernauts, so Oregon has to like its chances to score plenty of points.
Michigan State was the latest to get its licks in against Notre Dame last week, earning a tentative spot on my BlogPoll ballot after getting to 4-0.
We've all seen this from the Spartans before. They look great in September and October, but it all comes crashing down in November. Will the change to Mark Dantonio at coach make a difference this year?
Michigan State has a great opportunity to prove it's for real this week. Wisconsin is far and away the shakiest top-10 team in the country after surviving all manner of scares over the first four weeks. The defense suddenly looks very vulnerable, and a slimmed-down P.J. Hill apparently didn't get the memo that all great Wisconsin tailbacks are supposed to be fat.
And three makes a crowd. Clemson is also off to the races at 4-0, but its most impressive win was a home victory over offensively impotent Florida State. In a previous podcast, I dubbed Clemson "the Southern Michigan State" for the way the Tigers, too, have melted down in spectacular fashion at the tail end of several seasons, including last year.
Georgia Tech looks like it has already had its meltdown after dropping two straight. First the Jackets' vaunted defense was shredded by Boston College and Matt Ryan at home; last week Georgia Tech dropped a narrow decision at punchless Virginia.
Still, the matchup of C.J. Spiller and James Davis against the Georgia Tech defense should be a good one.
Georgia Tech is already 2 1/2 games out in the ACC's Coastal Division. The conference is just bad enough that even a two-loss team could end up back in the league title game, but they must get past Clemson at home.
Given that Maryland is Rutgers's first opponent with a pulse, and that Louisville is making the entire Big East look bad, it might be a good time for the Scarlet Knights to lay a beat-down on the Terps.
This line has been climbing all week, which makes me think I'm not the only one that feels this way.
I will stand by my belief that Rutgers is a legitimate top-10 team until I'm proven wrong. Depending on how things turn out in Tampa on Friday night, they might emerge from this game as the prohibitive conference favorite as well.
Rutgers is winning with balance -- Mike Teel has come miles in his development as a passer and the offense is no longer just the Ray Rice show. If Rutgers wants to be taken seriously, it needs to take advantage of one of its few opportunities against even a half-decent opponent, and I expect the Knights to do so.
It's hard to believe that these two marquee programs have only met twice before this neutral-site game in Jacksonville. And yes, on the podcast I talk about the Florida no longer having a home-field advantage. Apologies, it was early in the week.
The Nick Saban-for-Emperor movement took a hit last week as Alabama let a great comeback go to waste by losing to Georgia in overtime. The Tide should be favored in every game the rest of the way, except for a home date against LSU on November 3, so this game could be the difference in getting to 10 wins.
John Parker Wilson has put up big numbers at quarterback for the Tide, and the Seminoles are vulnerable against the pass. This could be another long night for Bobby Bowden, who nearly was named Alabama's coach in 1986.
Ohio State was considered one of four Big Ten contenders coming into the season, but the Buckeyes suddenly look like a clear favorite after seeing their offense come together against Northwestern last week.
Ohio State still has the suffocating defense -- second overall in the nation -- and if Todd Boeckman develops into a capable passer the Buckeyes could very well be undefeated when they arrive in Ann Arbor on November 17.
Minnesota might be the Big Ten's worst team, and should be little more than a roadbump for the Buckeyes. Consider it karma for the schools panicky move to fire Glen Mason for one bad half in last year's bowl game.
Or, alternately, download the MP3 by clicking on the icon below:
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||Dave Says||Russell Says|
|West Virginia||-7||South Florida||South Florida||West Virginia|
|Notre Dame||+22||Purdue||Notre Dame||Purdue|
|Michigan State||+7.5||Wisconsin||Wisconsin||Michigan State|
|Clemson||-2.5||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech||Clemson*|
|Ohio State||-23.5||Minnesota||Ohio State*||Ohio State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
161 comments, Last at 01 Oct 2007, 12:31pm by DMP