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?
24 Sep 2008
by Russell Levine
Another week, another monster matchup in the SEC. Get used to it, as the SEC will be doing the de facto elimination round-robin thing from here on in. But even though Alabama-Georgia is the obvious choice as the week's biggest game (how did that one get past CBS and onto the worldwide leader, anyway?), the SEC doesn't have a monopoly on quality contests.
Virginia Tech and Nebraska hook up in a "to the winner goes relevance" bowl in Lincoln, while Oklahoma will try to continue obliterating all comers, this time against one of the better non-BCS league schools, TCU.
We'll learn quite a bit about the Big Ten this week as well, as Penn State faces its first real test. We'll also learn if Michigan is in serious jeopardy of a bowl-less, losing season. Surprisingly, it doesn't hurt me as much as you might think to write sentence. I saw the progress at Notre Dame, even if it was lost in a haze of mostly unforced turnovers.
I recognize that not every Michigan fan feels this way, and I was curious to find out how the world's leading Michigan blogger was feeling, three weeks into what could turn out to be a long season. Which brings me to...
Brian Cook of mgoblog lives for Michigan football. And now he works for it, too, having figured out how to parlay two engineering degrees from U of M into a full-time career chronicling the school's athletic teams.
Brian is among a handful of bloggers who are offering far more in-depth coverage of their favorite teams than anything that can be found in the mainstream media. The vast majority of his energy is expended covering football, as well as publishing an annual book, Hail to the Victors: A Guide to Michigan Football. He is also the inventor of the blogpoll, of which I am a voting member.
In this week's podcast, Brian offers his thoughts on the state of Michigan, the Big Ten, the Illinois-Penn State and Wisconsin-Michigan games, and why Ohio State keeps killing the conference's reputation. We'll also continue the conversation, begun with SEC bloggers Clay Travis and Orson Swindle the past two weeks, as to how SEC fans may or may not be any different from the rest of us.
I hope you'll listen in.
Let's face it: The Pac-10 is awful. Remove USC from the Pac-10 and South Florida from the Big East, and the rest of each conference is pretty equal. Everyone assumes USC is going to roll through the rest of its Pac-10 schedule, lay its annual four-touchdown whipping on Notre Dame, and cruise into the national title game. Except the Trojans have had a funny habit of sleepwalking through the occasional game against an overmatched league foe. During the Leinart-Bush years, they were usually good enough to come back and win games after spotting early leads to the likes of Arizona State and Stanford. The last couple of years, they haven't been. Oregon State got the Trojans on one of those off nights up in Corvalis two years ago in one of those games nobody saw because of the Pac-10's ridiculous deal with FSN. This time, it's going to be on national TV on ESPN, the only game in town on a Saturday night. I think that will be enough to get USC's blood pumping. The Trojans have already heard whispers about how they could get passed by a once-beaten SEC team because of conference strength. Their defense against that will be to blow teams out, especially when everyone's watching. This one is going to get ugly, and get ugly early.
THE PICKS -- FEI: USC | RUSSELL: USC (Fred Edelstein Lock)
This was supposed to be the year that Florida State was "back." The Seminoles cruised to two straight wins over championship-subdivision schools before being put to their first test against Wake Forest last week. Now maybe Wake is really, really good, but Florida State looked awful. They looked especially bad on offense, which has been this team's Achilles' heel seemingly since Chris Weinke graduated (and immediately retired to Del Boca Vista). In comes an improving Colorado, which is riding high thanks to the contagious enthusiasm of Dan Hawkins, its big win over West Virginia, and whatever's in the air in Boulder. A win here truly puts Hawkins's club back on the map, while a loss might just grease the rails for Bobby Bowden's eventual exit. Good news for FSU: They get five suspended defensive starters back. But then again, defense hasn't been the problem.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Colorado | RUSSELL: Colorado
This game was supposed to be played two weeks ago before being postponed due to Hurricane Ike. Arkansas was a 23.5-point underdog then; Texas is now favored by 28. What happened in the interim, you ask? Well, Texas edged Rice, 52-10, while Arkansas was pounded by Alabama, 49-14, at home in its SEC opener. That's not a good sign for a team headed back on the road for a non-conference game. Still, there were positives for the Razorbacks. They outgained Alabama in the first half, despite trailing 35-7. If they cut down on the turnovers and mistakes they should be able to keep from getting embarrassed.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Texas | RUSSELL: Arkansas
Wisconsin is doing what Wisconsin usually does early in the season, which is win while not always looking spectacular. The Badgers spotted a couple of patsies early leads before roaring back for blowout wins, then ground out a tough win against a very good Fresno State team on the road. People are starting to talk that Wisconsin and Penn State, and not Ohio State, might be the class of the Big Ten. But the Badgers need to take care of business against rebuilding Michigan in order to mark themselves a conference contender. The Wolverines played by far their best offensive game against Notre Dame, but couldn't stop handing the ball to the Irish and lost by three touchdowns. With a week off, they should be much sharper in this game and won't be an easy out -- but that feeling is already built into the line.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Wisconsin | RUSSELL: Wisconsin
Oklahoma seems to have gotten lost in the national conversation between USC's destruction of Ohio State and the assumed preeminence of the SEC. The Sooners will have a chance to make their statement later in the season when they play Texas and Missouri, but a nice, healthy rout of TCU wouldn't hurt, either. Oklahoma is scoring almost 55 points per game and winning by an average margin of 40 -- not much more than TCU's average victory of 35.3. Oklahoma was in this position at the beginning of last season before inexplicably losing to Colorado. TCU won in Norman in 2005, so Bob Stoops shouldn't have any trouble motivating his team.
THE PICKS -- FEI: TCU | RUSSELL: Oklahoma
Hey look, the biggest game of the week is in the SEC, who knew? This does have great game written all over it though. Nick Saban's Alabama looks like it's a full year ahead of schedule, but then again that win over Clemson doesn't look nearly as impressive as we first thought now that the entire ACC has turned out to be softer than the mortgage-backed securities market. The Tide did take Arkansas behind the woodshed last week, as mentioned above, and that should count for something. Georgia looked very strong, if unspectacular (except for Knowshon Moreno's Superman imitation) against Arizona State. I don't see Georgia as the type of team that is going to blow out good opponents. They're going to run the ball, keep it close, try to hit a big play with Matthew Stafford. I think the Dawgs might regret that trip out west last week by the time this one is over.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Georgia | RUSSELL: Alabama
Nebraska has had its recent opportunities to prove it's "back," and it has failed (see last year's USC game for the most recent wildly unsuccessful attempt). While a win over a non-vintage Virginia Tech might not get the Huskers that much national respect, it would still mark one of the high points in Lincoln since before Chris Brown scored his 87th touchdown in that 2001 embarrassment at Colorado. Bo Pelini has already improved Nebraska's defense, which is playing at a higher level than at almost any point in the Bill Callahan era.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Virginia Tech | RUSSELL: Virginia Tech
Get ready for a whiteout and plenty of Zombie Nation as the Nittany Lions play their first game against an actual living, breathing opponent. Illinois is not the same team that went to the Rose Bowl last season, but they are still a lot better than the likes of Coastal Carolina.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Penn State (Edelstein Lock) | RUSSELL: Penn State
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||FEI Says||Russell Says|
|Virginia Tech||+7||Nebraska||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech|
|Illinois||+14||Penn State||Penn State*||Penn State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
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