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.
20 Nov 2008
by Russell Levine
This is more like it.
After last week's ho-hum schedule and lack of interesting results, this weekend presents a much more intriguing set of games, including the latest enormous, national title-altering matchup in the Big 12 South.
Oh yeah, it's also Michigan-Ohio State week.
Last week turned out to be an unintended college football vacation for me, as I spent most of the afternoon in the emergency room with my daughter, who needed stitches after suffering a nasty cut over her eye. She's fine, and her mishap had the unintended benefit of preventing me from having to watch Michigan-Northwestern.
That game remains on my DVR, unwatched. It'll likely be there for some time to come, taunting me. I doubt I have missed a Michigan game in person or at least on DVR since the last time they went untelevised, so there's a streak on the line here. I'll probably wait to see how the Ohio State game turns out before deciding if I want to torture myself with Northwestern.
Hopefully there are no side trips to the hospital to keep me away from Saturday's action. I've got Michigan-Ohio State at noon, followed by Michigan State-Penn State, BYU-Utah and then the big one in Norman at 8 p.m. ET. Sounds like a perfect day to me.
During this season's first Game of the Century -- which took place way back in September between Ohio State and USC -- we did a LiveBlog right here in SDA that turned out quite successfully. For this week's edition, Texas Tech at Oklahoma, we're going to do the same thing. Join us here at 8 p.m. ET to get your snark on!
Since the Longhorns have already played both Texas Tech and Oklahoma, Peter has some pretty good insight on both clubs. He also explains the odd position he's in as a Texas fan -- needing Oklahoma to win, but not by much -- in order for Texas to get into the title game.
Plus, Peter offers his thoughts on the elevation of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to "coach-in-waiting" status behind Mack Brown.
I hope you'll listen in.
Don't look now, but Miami is on a five-game winning streak, is a half-game up on Georgia Tech in the ACC Coastal Division, and would appear to have the easiest path to the conference title game of any of the ACC contenders. Randy Shannon's club hasn't looked dominating, or even pretty, but are starting to show signs of having turned the corner in the coach's second season at the helm. Georgia Tech, like many of the ACC contenders, has been inconsistent throughout the season. Though its offense is built around the triple-option ground game, the Yellow Jackets have to get a little more production out of the passing game to keep teams honest. The quarterbacks have been harried and have completed less than 50 percent of their passes -- not good news against a Miami defense that would like nothing more than to not have to respect the passing game.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Georgia Tech | RUSSELL: Miami
You didn't really think I was going to skip this one just because this is the worst Michigan team of all time, did you? First, a few words about Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. His team is awful, it doesn't appear that it has improved much over the course of the year in trying to adapt to the spread option, and it fields the worst Michigan defense of all time. Rodriguez has been getting testy in press conferences. Players are transferring (bye bye, YouTube legend Sam McGuffie, die we hardly knew ye?). The mainstream media has gone into PANIC!!!!! mode. And yet, my opinion of Rodriguez has not changed. I still think he was an excellent hire who will succeed in Ann Arbor. He has a long history of struggling badly in his first year before getting things turned around quickly. I'm not panicking. Transfers don't bother me. McGuffie may turn out to be more hype than substance, and he never seemed quite sure of his commitment to Michigan. If he doesn't want to be there, he should transfer. Michigan has plenty of depth at running back. And as for Rodriguez "telling Michigan fans to get a life" as the ESPN.com headline blared, those remarks were taken completely out of context. Go read the article. I'll wait. Sure, maybe not the best decision by Rodriguez to utter those words -- because of how they were likely to be spun, not because he was wrong -- but I find his honesty refreshing. I'm glad he's sticking up for his players, and that he's irritated and the losing is eating away at him. It should. The best take on the subject comes, as usual, from Brian.
Now, on to this game. The spread looks like a charity offering to the Wolverines. Steven Threet looks like he's out. McGuffie won't play. Or maybe he will. Michigan threw for 86 yards in the rain at home against Northwestern last week. Ohio State's offense is hardly explosive but has put 75 points on the board the last two weeks. Terrelle Pryor should find plenty of cutback lanes against Michigan's woeful-tackling back seven. Michigan may keep this close for a half on heart, but it looks like a blowout, rivalry game or no. I can't in good conscience take the points.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Ohio State | RUSSELL: Ohio State
The Big Ten title is down to a simple scenario. If Penn State wins, the Nittany Lions will do no worse than a share of the conference title and will represent the league in the Rose Bowl. If Michigan State wins, the Spartans get a share of the title, but Ohio State goes to Pasadena if it beats Michigan. Michigan State can only go the the Rose if the Wolverines upset the Buckeyes. Michigan State is an unspectacular 9-2, having lost to the two best teams on its schedule (Cal and Ohio State). The Spartans have lost 10 straight against ranked opponents, but they've also arguably played better on the road than they have at home this season. They have a puncher's chance in this game, particularly if they can get Javon Ringer going early against the Penn State defense. It's an awful big spread against a quality team -- which Michigan State is -- but I still think Penn State rides the home crowd to a second-half put-away of the Spartans, the same way it did to Michigan a month ago.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Penn State | RUSSELL: Penn State
It's the mid-major game of the year, and it will be seen by approximately 16 people that have "The mtn." on their cable systems. Luckily, I'm one of them (it's part of the DirecTV SportsPack offering). For the Utes, the stakes couldn't be higher. A win means a BCS bid. A loss could mean the Poinsettia Bowl. Talk about a drop-off. Utah has had a couple of close calls over the second half of the season, most recently a hard-fought three-point win over TCU two weeks ago. The Utes were back to firing on all cylinders in a 63-14 rout of San Diego State a week ago. The matchup to watch in this game is Utah's stout defense against the high-powerd BYU passing game. The Utes haven't let anybody score over 16 points over the second half of the season. This game could have been a winner-take-all for both the Mountain West Conference and the BCS if not for BYU's loss to TCU in October. Instead those are only the stakes for the Utes, who can all but clinch their second BCS bid in five seasons with a win to cap a perfect 12-0 season.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Utah | RUSSELL: Utah
If Penn State does the expected and beats Michigan State, it will leave Oregon State just two wins away from the least-anticipated Rose Bowl matchup of all time. The Beavers haven't been to Pasadena on New Year's since 1965, but they might find themselves there this season against a team they've already played -- and been humiliated by. But that's not for Oregon State to worry about. First, they must get through a tricky road trip to Arizona and then survive the Civil War game against Oregon. Las Vegas remains unimpressed with the Beavers' five-game winning streak, and has installed Arizona as a slight favorite in the game. Whether they get there or not, Oregon State is one of the more improbable teams to make a run at the BCS. The Beavers lost to Stanford in their opener, were destroyed at Penn State, and fell to Utah the week after shocking USC on their way to a 2-3 start. Since then, it's been all Jacquizz Rodgers, who, at 5-foot-6, is as fun to watch as any back in America. The freshman is ninth in the nation with better than 1,200 yards, and has been the key cog in an offense that has averaged nearly 40 points per game during its winning streak. Arizona has been tough at home, but Oregon State has been proving doubters wrong for some time now. If they stumble on the way to Pasadena, it will be against Oregon, not here.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Arizona | RUSSELL: Oregon State (Edelstein Lock)
The Big East and the ACC may not be the best of the BCS conferences, but they sure are the most interesting. At various points this season, West Virginia, South Florida, Pittsburgh, and now Cincinnati have been in control of the Big East's automatic BCS berth. With its only other remaining game against Syracuse, Cincinnati would all but sew up the conference if it can post the program's first-ever win over Pittsburgh. Dave Wannstedt's club is much better in his fourth year at the helm, but there still have been head-scratchers -- a season-opening loss to Bowling Green and a rout at the hands of Rutgers -- that leave people wondering if he can lead Pitt to the top of the conference. A win here would put him in position to do just that. This game will be a contrast in styles. Pitt will rely on LeSean McCoy, even against Cincinnati's tough run defense, while Cincinnati will pass it, no matter whether Tony Pike or Dustin Grutza is at quarterback. Pike, who missed time earlier this year with a broken arm, bruised his sternum in a win over Louisville, but is expected to start. Brian Kelley's name has been thrown around in a number of coaching searches, but his profile will get a lot higher if he can win this game.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Pittsburgh | RUSSELL: Cincinnati
Little known fact about Maryland: The Terps are the only team in the nation with four wins over ranked opponents this season. Yes, it's an arbitrary stat because teams that are ranked sometimes turn out to be Clemson, but still, the Terps have been at their best in their biggest games. They're also 6-0 at home this season. Florida State gets a gaggle of suspended receivers back for this game, but it won't matter if the offensive line can't protect Christian Ponder better than it did in a loss to Boston College last week.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Florida State (Edelstein Lock) | RUSSELL: Florida State
Those who prefer order over chaos will be rooting for Texas Tech this week. A win by the Red Raiders clinches the Big 12 South title, and sets up the conference championship game against Missouri for the right to play for the national title, almost certainly against the SEC champ. On the other hand, those who root for BCS disasters will be wearing their Sooners crimson and cream Saturday night. A win by Oklahoma could lead to a three-way tie among the Sooners, Texas Tech, and Texas, with each having posted a 1-1 mark against the others -- a tie that would have to be broken by the BCS standings, where the voters and their notoriously short memories could well ignore the fact that Texas beat Oklahoma and put the Sooners in the Big 12 championship. Mack Brown should probably spend his week off polishing up his groveling skills, just in case. This is the third consecutive "biggest game in program history" for the Red Raiders, but the first of the three away from Lubbock. Mike Leach's team has plenty of senior leadership and an experienced quarterback in Graham Harrell, who never showed signs of shrinking from the moment against Texas or Oklahoma State. In this week's podcast, Peter pointed out that against the Longhorns, Leach narrowed his linemen's typically wide splits to negate Texas's pass rush up the middle. Look for him to deploy a similar strategy. Oklahoma's defense is mediocre at best, but they can pressure the quarterback. To me this game boils down to that single matchup. If Texas Tech protects Harrell, it wins. If he's running for his life, Oklahoma will be well on its way to winning the Big 12.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Texas Tech | RUSSELL: Texas Tech
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||FEI Says||Russell Says|
|Miami||+3||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech||Miami|
|Michigan||+20.5||Ohio State||Ohio State||Ohio State|
|Michigan State||+14.5||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State|
|Oregon State||+2.5||Arizona||Arizona||Oregon State*|
|Florida State||+1.5||Maryland||Florida State*||Florida State|
|Texas Tech||+7||Oklahoma||Texas Tech||Texas Tech|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
41 comments, Last at 23 Nov 2008, 11:28pm by Kibbles