The SEC's streak of seven consecutive national championships isn't dead yet, but on the final weekend of the regular season, only Michigan State can keep it alive. Plus advanced stats, analysis and picks for the rest of championship Saturday.
09 Oct 2008
by Russell Levine
The elusive perfect week continues to just exceed my grasp.
Yes, I threw a 7-1 record on the board last week to climb over .500 (barely) on the season, and I need to crow about it here and now because 3-5 marks are no doubt lurking.
In four-plus seasons of doing this column, I have yet to enjoy a perfect week -- a feat that I'm starting to view in terms of a perfect game in baseball. Of course, were I to manage an 8-0 mark one of these weeks, that would make me like Len Barker or Mike Witt -- mediocre career pitchers who nonetheless enjoyed a singular moment of greatness.
I'm still seeking my moment, but I feel good about nudging the record into plus-territory as we head into the meat of conference play.
I also want to use this space to pass along best wishes to my former SDA writing partner Vinny, who takes the plunge into marital bliss this Saturday. Coincidentally, he's tying the knot on the day Michigan plays Toledo. While that appeared to be a wise decision a couple months back, it now looks like Vin may pass on one of Michigan's best remaining chances for a win.
Best of luck Robin and Vin -- hope you have a TV handy at the reception!
Jay Christensen runs the indispensable college football blog The Wiz of Odds.
Jay's site is one of my go-to destinations for links to columns and news items from around the country and updates on the statistical minutia of the sport -- such as breakdowns of the impact of the recent timing rules. There are also lighter items like front-page pictures of various Sunday papers in college football markets and on-the-scene tailgating reports from fans around the country.
I highly recommend it you add The Wiz to your bookmarks or RSS feed.
Jay, a long-time print veteran who only revealed his online identity after being downsized at the Los Angeles Times, joined me to discuss the week's biggest games -- Texas-Oklahoma and LSU-Florida -- as well as the state of college football media coverage in the age of the blogger.
I hope you'll listen in.
Since the formation of the Big 12 conference, the Red River Rivalry has usually decided the South champion. One or the other has played in the league title game each of the last nine seasons. But rarely has there been as much at stake as this season, with both teams firmly ensconced in the top five and the winner having an inside track to the BCS championship game. That's not to say the winner here automatically takes the South. Unproven but dangerous Texas Tech and Oklahoma State would both like to have a say in that matter. Still, this is the game that matters, getting a surprise edge over LSU-Florida for the title of this week's Game of the Century. Both quarterbacks -- Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas' Colt McCoy -- have been stellar while operating virtually untouched behind dominant offensive lines. That will change this week as both will get their jerseys dirty before halftime. New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp needs to earn his money for Texas to win this game by finding a way to get to Bradford and throw him off. I don't think it will happen.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Texas | RUSSELL: Oklahoma
It's panic time in Tennessee, after the Vols dropped their first two SEC games and then squeaked by Northern Illinois, 13-9, at home last week. Phil Fulmer is skating on the thinnest ice of his career -- with legendary Vols coach Johnnie Majors deciding now was the time to remind everyone exactly how Fulmer got the job in the first place. Fulmer and his club are in desperate need of a win to quiet the critics, but playing a wounded Georgia on the road may not be the best place to get it. This contest will be a major test of Georgia's psyche, after the preseason No. 1 Bulldogs were embarrassed at home by Alabama two weeks ago. Will Georgia rally and seize its second-chance opportunity? One loss hardly eliminates it from title contention, especially with Florida also having lost. Georgia has had a week off to rest and recover -- important with star tailback Knowshon Moreno hurting with a bruised elbow. Moreno and the Bulldogs were held in check by Tennessee in a surprising 35-14 rout last season, and should be primed for revenge. I don't see this as the game where Jonathan Crompton figures out the quarterback position. Let the speculation about the next Tennessee coach begin -- or kick into overdrive.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Georgia | RUSSELL: Georgia
I love the effort that Javon Ringer has shown this season, but it is criminal how Mark Dantonio is using him. Two-hundred twelve carries in six games? There should be a congressional investigation of abuse. Ringer may want the ball that much, it may even make strategic sense, but I bet he feels differently when his NFL draft stock slides due to overuse. And lest you think I'm just taking shots at Michigan State, I echoed similar concerns against Lloyd Carr when he gave Chris Perry 51 carries in a game a few years ago in a win over Michigan State. The Spartans have quietly had an excellent year, not blowing teams out but pounding them into submission with Ringer. They will try to do the same against undefeated Northwestern, but I think they're due for a letdown. This is Michigan State, after all. The only thing consistent about this program the last 10 years has been the predictable meltdown at some point every season. I think it's coming in Evanston.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Northwestern | RUSSELL: Northwestern
If you've been following this column as well as Confessions of a Football Junkie, you probably know that I'm fairly optimistic about North Carolina. About Notre Dame? Not so much. My feelings about the Irish have to do with who they've played so far, with their best win coming over Purdue. I promise you this, Notre Dame fans, the Irish will be ranked in my BlogPoll ballot if they win this game -- which they won't. North Carolina is better on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and it's secondary will limit a harassed Jimmy Clausen.
THE PICKS -- FEI: North Carolina | RUSSELL: North Carolina
People have been on me for a couple of weeks to take a look at Ball State. I finally did, moving the Cardinals into my BlogPoll ballot this week after they moved to 6-0. Quarterback Nate Davis is an NFL prospect, even without Dante Love to throw to. I like Ball State to cover the big number on the road against Western Kentucky, which is 2-4 after serving as the professional stepping stone opponent in games against Indiana, Alabama, Kentucky, and Virginia Tech. Hey, Jason Whitlock -- I picked your alma mater. Will you shill for me for the next 15 years?
THE PICKS -- FEI: Ball State (Edelstein Lock) | RUSSELL: Ball State
Interesting game here as largely unproven Oklahoma State -- yet another Big 12 team with an explosive offense -- takes on Missouri. The Tigers have been burying teams early, jumping out to big leads to neutralize opposing running games and fears about their own weak secondary. Can Oklahoma State keep things close enough into the second half to make running back Kendall Hunter a factor? If so, the Cowboys probably cover. I think it'll be too much Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, and Derrick Washington. Depending on what happens in Dallas, Daniel could move to the front of the Heisman line with a statement performance here. I think he'll do it.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Missouri | RUSSELL: Missouri (Edelstein lock)
Penn State will be facing a desperate Wisconsin at Camp Randall on Saturday night. The Badgers suffered an inexcusable loss at Michigan two weeks ago, then couldn't finish the job against Ohio State at home last week. In two weeks, they've seen their season go from fringe national title contention to train wreck, and if they have any hope of reversing the tide, they have to win this game. Penn State, meanwhile, has been steamrolling opponents much of the year but offered an uneven performance in a 20-6 road win over Purdue last week. Wisconsin will line up and play power-run. Joe Paterno, who will likely be back in the booth for this game, has to avoid getting drawn into a trench-warfare style game. Penn State's biggest advantage is its high-octane offense, but I have a feeling, in a tight road game, he might revert to past tendencies. Advantage, Wisconsin.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Penn State | RUSSELL: Wisconsin
Had Florida not lost to Ole Miss, this would be the game everyone was talking about this week, not Texas-Oklahoma. LSU has looked like the best team in the SEC (at least the best not named Alabama) and surely isn't afraid of big games in hostile environments. Florida has looked a little vulnerable all year, failing to really put a complete game together. The Gators fans I know are not optimistic about this contest. Tim Tebow's numbers are down, Percy Harvin is banged up, and the Gators may be questioning themselves a bit. All of which makes the line for this game so strange. It opened at LSU +4 and jumped almost immediately to +6. Is this a dreaded "too good to be true" line? I don't think so. By the end of the night, LSU will have stamped itself as the team to beat in the SEC with an outright win.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Florida | RUSSELL: LSU
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||FEI Says||Russell Says|
|Notre Dame||+7.5||North Carolina||North Carolina||North Carolina|
|Ball State||-16||Western Kentucky||Ball State*||Ball State|
|Penn State||-6||Wisconsin||Penn State||Wisconsin|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
41 comments, Last at 12 Oct 2008, 2:50pm by Kibbles