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?
04 Oct 2008
by Russell Levine
Well, that was fun.
Nothing gets a college football fan's blood pumping like a smörgåsbord of upsets such as we had last week. Following the shake-up, the Big 12 moves to the top of the heap, with Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas all in the top five.
Missouri and Texas face potentially tricky games this week, while Oklahoma gets Baylor as it waits for the enormous game against Texas in Dallas next week. But it's probably safest not to assume anything -- including wins over Baylor -- as this college football season begins to resemble the wackiness of 2007.
Come along for the ride with this week's podcast, and don't forget that this article serves as the college open thread all week long.
ESPN The Magazine senior writer Bruce Feldman was kind enough to make his third appearance on the SDA podcast. He's based in Los Angeles, and follows the USC program closely. He also spent a year embedded at Ole Miss researching the book Meat Market, which chronicled a season on the recruiting trail with former Rebels coach Ed Orgeron.
I wanted to gauge Bruce's opinion on a couple of things. First, why do games like the Oregon State contest keep happening to USC? Second, is it foolish to dismiss USC's title chances after the loss?
Everyone was quick to write the 2008 Trojans' obituary after the game, but 48 hours later, three other top-five teams had lost. Will poll voters really vote to punish the likes of USC and Ohio State, or will they do what they always do, which is knock teams down after a loss and then start moving them back up as others lose?
Bruce also weighs in on the three Big 12 powers, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, two of which have intriguing games this weekend.
I hope you'll listen in.
It's good to see the Beavers gained some respect with bettors after taking down USC. Uh, not so much. Ten days later, Oregon State is a heavy underdog at Mountain West power Utah. Part of the reason for the line is the Mountain West's dominance over the Pac-10 this season, and part of it has to do with the feeling that there's no way Oregon State can repeat the kind of effort it showed against the Trojans, especially on the road against a good Utah team. I saw Utah up close when it beat Michigan in the opener, a game that should not have been as close as the final score indicated. Brian Johnson is an excellent dual-threat quarterback, but if Oregon State can get pressure with the front four the way it did against Mark Sanchez, he can be disrupted. After torching the Michigan defense in the first half, Utah barely moved the ball after intermission as the Michigan defensive line asserted itself. I like Utah, but the line is too high.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Utah | RUSSELL: Oregon State
Maybe Mike Leach has this scheduling thing right. Year after year, the Red Raiders are to soft scheduling what Alaska is to pork-barrel spending. Leach and his club fatten up on a bunch of directional patsies while attrition starts to chip away at the teams above them. By the time conference play starts, Texas Tech is highly ranked -- and completely untested. But should they pull off an upset over one of the Big 12 powers, they'll be right in the thick of the BCS talk. If they falter, well, those four gimme wins have them two-thirds of the way to a bowl bid without playing anything more than a glorified scrimmage. For the record, I hate this approach, but until voters truly punish teams for soft scheduling, we're going to see more and more of it. I'd like to say Leach's club will stumble in its first game that even resembles a test, but Kansas State's defense is terrible and this is a really bad matchup for the Wildcats.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Texas Tech | RUSSELL: Texas Tech
If the financial crisis doesn't have you packing up the ammo and heading for a compound in Montana, maybe this will: College GameDay is coming to Vandy to check out the 'Dores, who are a perfect 4-0 on the season. What was a cute early season story took on a more impressive tone when one of Vandy's victims, Ole Miss, went on to beat Florida on the road. Might the Commodores be for real? We'll find out over the next five weeks, when they play not only Auburn, but Georgia and Florida as well. Vanderbilt has been down this road before, starting 4-0 in 2005 before finishing 5-6, but this team seems different. Auburn, with its new spread offense, would love to be getting the production that Vanderbilt is getting out of Chris Nickson. Auburn's offense has been downright painful to watch the past two games, putting up a total of 17 points in a pair of wins over Mississippi State and Tennessee.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Vanderbilt (Edelstein Lock) | RUSSELL: Auburn
Texas has been Oklahoma-like in destroying all comers so far this season. The Longhorns hope they can avoid what happened to Oklahoma in its Big 12 opener at Boulder last season, when Colorado pulled off a stunning upset. Texas's defense is much improved under new coordinator Will Muschamp, but it is the offense that is making headlines. Colt McCoy has shaken off the sophomore slump to throw for 1,018 yards, 14 touchdowns and just one interception, while completing 80 percent of his throws. Colorado should have the backing of a terrific home crowd, which helped spur the Buffs to an upset of West Virginia two weeks ago. Colorado went on the road and was beaten soundly by Florida State as coach's kid Cody Hawkins threw three interceptions. He can't afford to be that loose with the ball against a Texas team that is far better than the Seminoles.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Colorado | RUSSELL: Texas
North Carolina is very quietly putting together a solid season in Butch Davis's second year. Only a late-game collapse against Virginia Tech stands between the Tar Heels and an undefeated record. Both teams have injury problems at quarterback. UConn's Tyler Lorenzen broke his foot in last week's come-from-behind win over Louisville and is out for two months. North Carolina's T.J. Yates was sidelined with a broken ankle two weeks ago, leaving junior Cameron Sexton and freshman Mike Paulus to fight it out for playing time under center.
THE PICKS -- FEI: North Carolina | RUSSELL: North Carolina (Edelstein Lock)
Who shows up for Southern Cal? Is it the swaggering team that dismantled Ohio State the last time it had the Saturday night spotlight? Or is it the overconfident one that was pushed around by Oregon State one game later? USC figures to be in a pretty salty mood by the time this game kicks off. The Oregon State loss has pushed the Trojans over some sort of tipping point for criticism about their tendency to pull a no-show at least once a year. Despite everyone's predictions to the contrary, USC is not out of the national title race, but it better put a few impressive results in the "W" column. Oregon is no pushover, no matter how banged up the Ducks are at quarterback, and a rout by USC would go a long way to burying the Oregon State game in the memory banks of the voters. Oregon beat USC last year when the tables were turned at quarterback, as John David Booty sat out the game with an injury and was replaced by Mark Sanchez. This time, it's the Ducks that are hurting at quarterback. Justin Roper is expected back, but he could be gimpy on an injured knee -- not a good situation against an angry USC defensive front. Roper's also missed practice this week with a mysterious illness, rumored to be mononucleosis. If the Trojans can't cover here, I will not ride them as a big favorite again this year. They'll be dead to me.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Oregon | RUSSELL: USC
This game was supposed to mean so much more. Both teams were supposed to come in undefeated, and the winner would emerge still in the thick of the national title hunt. Instead, each has suffered a humiliating loss and each is trying to claw its way back into the championship picture and the poll voters' good graces. As badly as Ohio State was outplayed by USC, Wisconsin's loss to Michigan was worse. How bad was it? One of the back-breaking plays was a 58-yard quarterback keeper by Michigan's Steven Threet. The stats of the game were so astounding (Michigan's first 10 possessions generated 21 yards, one first down, and five turnovers) that they defied description. On Sunday morning, I had the following IM conversation with Orson Swindle of EDSBS:
Orson Swindle: I am looking at the box score of your game and attempting to figure out how the f@#k this happened. Steven Threet did NOT run for a 58-yard gain.
Me: I told you it was crazy. You must see the highlight (fast-forward to the 3:10 mark to see Threet's run):
Orson: That's Chris Leak-esque.
Me: Except if Chris Leak was taller, slower, ganglier, and paler.
Orson: I'm floored. The box score literally makes NO sense. I think that's the worst loss [Saturday] in terms of pure collapse.
Me: Has to be.
Orson: Florida-Ole Miss was tight the whole way. Georgia was brutalized. This was blowing a tire on the runway and rolling a 747.
Me: I like Threet. He's a potential train wreck every time he gets the snap, but occasionally good things happen too. He's got some "moxie."
Orson: Get it how you live it, playa: Slow, white, and unstoppable.
Me: I love how Threet protects the ball like 15 yards before getting tackled. He's all "where are you, defense?"
Orson: "Please tackle me. This is scary."
Me: If you look real close, you can see pieces of the leg braces flying off as he runs.
Can Wisconsin overcome something like that? Against an Ohio State team that has finally, deservedly, stapled Todd Boeckman to the bench in favor of Terrelle Pryor? I think not.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Wisconsin | RUSSELL: Ohio State
Bo Pelini, the gum-chomping, bar-patrolling, penalty-getting new coach at Nebraska made some noise this week, musing about how he'd like to see his team shut out high-powered Missouri. I am officially done waiting for Nebraska to prove it is "back." The Huskers have basically failed every test since being emasculated by Colorado seven years ago. When they finally prove themselves in a big game, I will apologize and begin paying attention to them again. Until then, I'm going the other way.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Nebraska | RUSSELL: Missouri
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||FEI Says||Russell Says|
|Oregon State||+11.5||Utah||Utah||Oregon State|
|Texas Tech||-7.5||Kansas State||Texas Tech||Texas Tech|
|Connecticut||+7||North Carolina||North Carolina||North Carolina*|
|Ohio State||-1.5||Wisconsin||Wisconsin||Ohio State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
29 comments, Last at 06 Oct 2008, 2:22pm by witless chum