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.
18 Oct 2007
by Russell Levine
I went into last week's picks feeling like it was going to be the Year of Infinite Pain all over again. I was sure Purdue would run up and down the field on my beloved Michigan. I said as much in print.
So what happened?
Michigan put together its most complete performance of the season, and, other than a stunning inability to recover a widely expected onside kick, completely wiped the field with the Boilermakers.
Instead of the Year of Infinite Pain, I ended up with my own flashbacks to 2005: the year of the Vinny-Russell Universe Altering Curse. That year, I couldn't pick a point spread to save my life. A 1-6-1 mark last week dropped me to an abysmal 22-32-2 for 2007.
What doesn't kill me only makes me stronger, so I'm back at it for another week. As usual, these picks are offered for entertainment purposes only, but if you're reading this, chances are you already know what.
What a strange college football season it has been. You know things are weird when South Florida-Rutgers is a bigger game than USC-Notre Dame and Miami-Florida State put together.
But don't tell that to this week's podcast guest, David Sweet, who obtained a degree from Southern Cal and who has written about the Irish for MSNBC.com, among others. David is a long-time online and sports business writer who also contributes to Street and Smith's NFL annual. He and I have known each other since we teamed to form two-thirds of the sports "department" at the launch of the Wall Street Journal online edition.
Here's a quick look at the games David and I will be discussing this week:
The nation's newly anointed second-ranked team takes on last year's Cinderella in another important Big East game that falls in the ESPN Thursday night spotlight.
Is USF merely "this year's Rutgers," or are they something more? A win here puts the Bulls one step closer to possibly playing for the national title in New Orleans.
Rutgers's Ray Rice was the last man to break 100 yards against the USF defense, when he broke the 200-yard barrier in a tight win last season. He may need to have another big night against George Selvie and the South Florida defensive front, lest the game fall onto the suddenly shaky shoulders of Mike Teel.
What's wrong with USC? The Trojans have looked mortal or worse in three straight games, which included their stunning loss to Stanford two weeks ago. On the other side of the field, Notre Dame is coming off its best two-game stretch of the season.
Three weeks ago, the line on this game might have approached 40 points. Now it's down to 18. The last time these teams met in South Bend, USC escaped with an epic win and Charlie Weis picked up a 10-year contract extension.
Evan Sharpley gets the start for Notre Dame as Weis feels he can limit the dreadful mistakes that have plagued freshman Jimmy Clausen.
On paper, this is still a huge mismatch. Can Notre Dame find some of that 2005 magic and keep things close? Will they dare break out the green jerseys?
At first glance it may appear that the line in this game pays a shocking lack of respect to Kentucky, which just knocked off the nation's top-ranked team in LSU a week ago.
Florida has had a week to rest since its battle with LSU, and that probably has a lot to do with the line being what it is. The Gators are rested, while the Wildcats have to be beat up after their triple-OT win.
With two losses in conference play already, the Gators absolutely must win this game if they hope to get back to the SEC championship game.
Lovers of offense, make sure to tune into this one. These are two of the top-five teams in total offense, led by their outstanding quarterbacks.
Hawaii's Colt Brennan gets the headlines and Heisman hype for his ridiculous run-and-shoot numbers, but Texas Tech's Graham Harrell is putting up stats that dwarf Brennan's, and the Red Raiders are coming off a rout of Texas A&M.
Missouri and quarterback Chase Daniel played well at Oklahoma last week, but lost a second-half lead. The Tigers can't afford to fall two games behind Kansas in the Big 12 North.
Lovers of offense, make sure NOT to tune into this one. These are two of the worst offenses in America, led by dreadfully inconsistent quarterbacks.
The downfall of these two programs -- at least by their expectations -- has an awful lot to do with quarterback play the last several seasons.
First touchdown might win in this one, and you might get even money that it will be scored by the defense. It's hard to believe, but both of these programs are looking up at South Florida in the Sunshine State football pecking order.
Washington is battle-tested, but they haven't been winning too many of the battles. Oregon is rolling, but they lost two key players to season-ending injuries in a blowout win over Washington State last week.
With Cal and USC losing, Oregon has a great shot to win the Pac-10. But before they can think about the Trojans, the Ducks have to take care of business in Seattle.
Oregon may depend on Dennis Dixon even more than usual with big-play tailback Jeremiah Johnson out this week. The Ducks torched Washington State's overmatched defense a week ago, and the Huskies aren't that much better on that side of the ball.
Illinois has the type of offense that traditionally gives Michigan fits -- a spread with a mobile quarterback that can hurt you with the run. The Wolverines proved they can handle a spread when the QB is a statue like Purdue's Curtis Painter.
The problem for Illinois is that its mobile quarterback, Juice Williams, can't throw it a lick. He's been replaced by Eddie McGee in each of last three games, but Ron Zook has declared Williams his starter.
For Michigan, Mike Hart will most likely play despite an ankle injury, but just how effective he'll be remains to be seen. Chad Henne may have to carry the load for the Michigan offense. If the coaching staff puts the game plan on his shoulders and he has a good night, Michigan wins even if the defense gives up a few big plays. If not, it'll be loss number three for the Wolverines and all my fellow UM fans will be back to speculating who the next coach will be. (Actually, we'll be doing that no matter what.)
LSU's loss to Kentucky last week dropped the Tigers to fourth in the BCS standings, putting them behind South Florida and Boston College for a spot in the championship game. But Les Miles can't let his team get caught up in worrying about what anyone else does, because there are still some potential SEC losses on the schedule -- including this game against Auburn.
I worry about Miles's ability to do that after the scene we saw at Tiger Stadium two weeks ago, when the LSU players were celebrating wildly on the sidelines after the final score of the USC-Stanford game was announced. Then again, maybe the players just got caught up in the crowd's frenzy.
LSU still might well be the best team in the country, but they have to be beat up after to back-to-back epic battles. Auburn had a tough fight of its own last week, squeaking out a 9-7 road win over Arkansas in which it held Arkansas's Darren McFadden to just 43 yards on 17 carries.
Auburn's Brandon Cox may actually be playing better than LSU's Matt Flynn coming in. He's shaken off a tough start to play one of his best stretches of football during Auburn's current four-game winning streak.
Or, alternately, download the MP3 by clicking on the icon below:
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||David Says||Russell Says|
|South Florida||-3||Rutgers||Rutgers||South Florida|
|Southern Cal||-18||Notre Dame||Southern Cal||Notre Dame|
|Texas Tech||+3.5||Missouri||Texas Tech||Texas Tech|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
132 comments, Last at 22 Oct 2007, 9:06am by Pete