Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
25 Oct 2008
by Russell Levine
We've hit the every-week-is-a-playoff portion of the college football schedule. Though last year's title game participants recovered from late losses to reach the BCS championship, a repeat should not be expected, not with so many major-conference teams remaining in contention.
While all the one-loss teams remain in play -- yes, even Ohio State -- all need to keep winning. Doing so by impressive margins would be even better. The once-beaten teams from the SEC and Big 12 are in better shape as the depth of those conferences (and the fact that they play championship games) provides the likes of Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, and LSU ample opportunities to prove their worth. Ohio State and USC will need to do more with style points, and must hope a few more teams lose along the way.
This is a big week for the SEC, with Georgia and LSU facing off in a de facto elimination game, while Florida and Alabama face tricky opponents. Auburn also has an intriguing non-conference game at West Virginia. The Tigers aren't in contention for anything, except maybe a new head coach, but a loss in Morgantown would hurt the SEC's Teflon reputation as the nation's best conference.
The week's biggest game, based on BCS rankings, is the battle of Big 12 South unbeatens Oklahoma State and Texas in Austin, but a bigger spotlight will fall on the contest in Columbus, Ohio, between Penn State and Ohio State, as the nation tunes in to a nationally televised, prime time affair to find out if Joe Paterno's team is a true national title contender, or if Ohio State is once again to be part of the BCS championship mix.
Mike Hubbell authors the Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries. He was kind enough to join me this week to break down the big game against the Buckeyes, last week's rout of Michigan, and how surprised he is (or isn't) by this season's success.
We also spent some time chatting about the emergence of Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and how he compares to Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor.
I hope you'll listen in.
OK, who had these teams down for five combined losses? Anyone? Certainly not me; I picked Auburn to win the national championship. Instead, the wheels have come off on the plains, as Tommy Tuberville gassed offensive coordinator Tony Franklin midway through his rookie season and is now desperately trying to hang on to his own job. Auburn's offense has been downright putrid. The surprising thing is that West Virginia's hasn't been all that much better. Things should improve a little this week as Pat White is expected to return from a concussion to start at quarterback, but Auburn's defense will be by far the best the Mountaineers have faced. Still, White should be good for a big play or two. The question is, can Auburn generate any big plays of its own? Sophomore Kodi Burns gets the nod at quarterback, his third start of the season. The bye last week should be beneficial for Burns against the Mountaineers' stout defense.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Auburn | RUSSELL: West Virginia
Each week seems to bring a new leader of the SEC pack. The season began with Florida and Georgia as conference co-favorites. Then Florida lost to Ole Miss and Georgia was embarrassed at home by Alabama. The Tide currently sit atop the conference pack, but they've looked vulnerable since halftime of that Georgia game. One of the teams to put a scare into Alabama was Kentucky, which lost by just three points in Tuscaloosa. Florida has rotated back to the top of the heap in the SEC East after destroying LSU at home two weeks ago and is a healthy favorite to do the same to the Wildcats. Kentucky is a surprising 5-2. More surprising, the Wildcats are winning with defense (11.9 points per game) and have forced 20 turnovers. But if the Florida offense that played LSU shows up, it will be a Gator romp.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Kentucky | RUSSELL: Kentucky
Here's that aforementioned elimination game in the SEC, with the loser all but done in the conference and national title races. Georgia hasn't exactly roared back from its loss to Alabama, winning games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt that were still in doubt well into the second half. The same could be said for LSU, which was severely tested in a seven-point win over South Carolina in its only outing since being crushed by Florida. This game kicks off a five-game homestand that will make or break the Tigers' season, while for Georgia its just the beginning of a daunting season-ending stretch that includes games against Florida and Georgia Tech sandwiched around trips to Kentucky and Auburn. Look for LSU to try and pound Georgia with the ground game -- its recipe for success in the comeback against South Carolina. Quarterback Jarrett Lee has shown flashes, but has been way too inconsistent to carry the load, especially against a solid defense.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Georgia | RUSSELL: LSU (Edelstein Lock)
Texas is riding high after back-to-back wins over previously undefeated Oklahoma and Missouri -- games in which Colt McCoy and the offense put up 96 combined points. Everything is going Texas's way right now. The Longhorns are a decisive No. 1 in every poll that matters, and McCoy appears to be well out front of the Heisman Trophy race. Missouri was in a similar position when it faced Oklahoma State two weeks ago -- also at home. The Tigers came into that game unbeaten, and poised to move up in the polls after Oklahoma's loss earlier in the day. Quarterback Chase Daniel was the trendy Heisman front-runner, expected to put up big numbers against an Oklahoma State team that was viewed largely as the product of a soft scheduled. Three interceptions and one upset later, the Big 12, BCS, and Heisman pictures had all been altered. Can the Cowboys do it again?
THE PICKS -- FEI: Texas | RUSSELL: Texas
If you haven't seen Georgia Tech play this year (and you happen to be one of those few households that receives ESPNU), do yourself a favor and at least DVR this game. It's worth watching just to see the triple-option offense deployed at a BCS conference school. It's fair to say that Georgia Tech has exceeded expectations so far this year. At 6-1, the Yellow Jackets are the highest-ranked ACC team in the AP poll. Georgia Tech still has a nasty defense (11.6 points per game allowed) but it's the offense that is generating headlines under former Navy coach Paul Johnson. Virginia, meanwhile, has won three straight to involve itself in the ACC race after a difficult start that saw Cavaliers fans calling for the head of Al Groh, who has become the closest thing the college game has to offer to former Lions coach Wayne "Rasputin" Fontes.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Georgia Tech (Edelstein Lock) | RUSSELL: Virginia
The podcast may have been with a Big Ten blogger this week, but you can't accuse me of short-changing the SEC. The third of our SEC contests this week pits the season's surprise team, Alabama, against one of its biggest disappointments in Tennessee. Alabama vaulted to the top of the polls on the strength of impressive wins against Clemson and Georgia, but one of those teams has been proven a fraud, and the jury is still out on whether the other one is truly a contender. In between, Alabama has endured a few uncomfortably close wins over lesser teams. As much as they have improved in Nick Saban's second year, and as good as they have been (Alabama has not trailed once in eight games), you get the feeling that the Tide aren't quite good enough to go undefeated, and may just end up losing to a team that they should beat. That definition would appear to fit Tennessee (3-4), where the alums are just about read to start tracking flights in the search for their next coach. But the Vols haven't quit, and their four losses have come by a combined 41 points. They can keep this game close well into the second half, but in the end, too much Alabama.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Alabama | RUSSELL: Alabama
Two weeks ago, I might have felt differently about this game. But that was before Ohio State dropped 45 points on a pretty good Michigan State team -- on the road, no less -- and Penn State showed some vulnerability against Michigan (for a half, anyway). Penn State is a very good team, but is taking a major step up in competition against the Buckeyes, with an emerging Pryor at quarterback and a nearly healthy Beanie Wells at tailback. Michigan proved that Penn State can be run upon. I think the Buckeyes can have enough success on the ground to open things up for Pryor and force Penn State to score a bunch of points on the road, in a very tough atmosphere, to beat them. This should be a close game throughout. Penn State might be the better overall team, but not on this night in the Horseshoe. Look out America, Ohio State intends to have a say in the national title race. Again.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Penn State | RUSSELL: Ohio State
I'm not sure how much it matters what USC does this week, as long as the Trojans win. With this game set to end long past midnight in the east, it likely won't have much effect on USC's poll position, unlike the 69-0 eye-opener over Washington State last Saturday afternoon. With that outsized victory -- even coming against perhaps the worst BCS conference team in America -- USC is right back in the thick of national title contention, sitting at No. 5 in the initial BCS standings. With a soft schedule the rest of the way, all the Trojans have to do is post a few lopsided wins, avoid an upset, pound Notre Dame on national TV, and wait for the Big 12 and SEC contenders to start beating each other. Arizona won't be a pushover, however. The Wildcats have shown signs of life, and likely kept Mike Stoops employed for at least another year, by getting off to a 5-2 start that includes an impressive home win over Cal last week. Arizona has an explosive offense with quarterback Willie Tuitama, but the Wildcats will probably spend some time with the film of USC's loss to Oregon State and feed to ball to Keola Antolin, who came off the bench to run for 149 yards last week. Still, if USC doesn't come out flat and puts together a 60-minute effort, the Trojans will win -- handily.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Arizona | RUSSELL: USC
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||FEI Says||Russell Says|
|Auburn||+3.5||West Virginia||Auburn||West Virginia|
|Virginia||+12||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech*||Virginia|
|Penn State||-2||Ohio State||Penn State||Ohio State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
30 comments, Last at 28 Oct 2008, 1:50pm by Pat (filler)