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.
17 Sep 2008
by Russell Levine
Undaunted by my stellar 1-6 showing in last week's picks (I don't know whether or not to be thankful that Arkansas was postponed) and by Michigan's 143 turnovers against Notre Dame, I have returned for another week of college football podcasting and prognosticating.
Just as Michigan can find a silver lining in an 18-point loss to a team that couldn't get out of its own way last year or even last week, I choose to view my record last week as a place from which to improve. Given that I'm reasonably certain neither I nor any of my various writing partners or guests has ever posted an 0-8 week, I am confident in saying that I can only get better from here.
The SEC takes center stage this week, with three big games. Sure, the Georgia-Arizona State game looked like a better one before the Sun Devils went out and lost to UNLV on their home field last week, but it's still an interesting game given that Georgia almost never travels out of its time zone and is coming off a so-so showing against South Carolina last week. Elsewhere in the SEC, Florida and Tennessee renew pleasantries and Auburn and LSU get together in a game in which the over-under could be a single digit.
Last year, Orson Swindle of EDSBS.com was my guest during what he calls "Tennessee Hate Week." In the interests of equal time (and because Orson was kind enough to serve as a last-minute fill in on last week's podcast) we're going over to the Tennessee side this year.
Rabid Tennessee fan Clay Travis is an associate editor at Deadspin, where he frequently blogs about college football. Before getting the call from Gawker Media, he wrote the "ClayNation" column at CBS Sportsline. He's also the author of Dixieland Delight, which chronicles a season spent visiting all 12 SEC schools, and Man: The Book, which advises you whether that fruity drink you're holding is truly worthy of your gender.
Clay is currently working on his third book, which will follow the 2008 Tennessee season. Beyond giving him a valid excuse to attend every UT game this season, he is getting tremendous behind-the-scenes access to the players, their families, coaches, and team officials. He has a real insight into the inner workings of a big-time college football program, while maintaining the perspective of a fan.
He was kind enough to join me this week to discuss Tennessee's chances against Florida, as well as the week's other big SEC contests. We also continue the conversation (began last week with Orson) as to why fans of SEC schools are so willing to back their rivals against anyone else.
I hope you'll listen in.
West Virginia fans are already to take the torches to the furniture, and not in a good way, as the one-sided loss to East Carolina two weeks ago has plenty of people grumbling Rich Rodriguez's replacement, Bill Stewart. The Mountaineers (1-1) are still charitably ranked in the AP and coaches' polls, and the Thursday-night national TV spotlight gives them an excellent opportunity to wipe some of the egg off their face from the ECU loss. It won't come easily against crazy Dan Hawkins and the Buffs, who are off to a 2-0 start.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Colorado | RUSSELL: West Virginia
Virginia Tech (2-1) seemingly fell off the face of the earth after opening with a loss to East Carolina. It hasn't been pretty, but the Hokies have picked up the pieces to win two straight, including a tight game against ACC Coastal division rival Georgia Tech last week. With Frank Beamer having wisely shelved the idea of red-shirting Tyrod Taylor, the Tech offense should have a bit more pop. They might need it at North Carolina, which exploded for 44 points in a nationally-televised win at Rutgers last week. That effort was good enough to make everyone forget the Tar Heels (2-0) struggled with McNeese State in their opener. The winner will probably find itself ranked in the major polls next week.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Virginia Tech | RUSSELL: North Carolina
Notre Dame (2-0) posted an 18-point win over an arch-rival in a bad-weather game last Saturday, and yet it's hard to know if we've really learned anything about the Irish. When it wasn't handing the ball back to Notre Dame with regularity, several times without the defense even being involved in the play, Michigan moved the ball well on the ground and through the air. Steven Threet statistically outplayed Jimmy Clausen. Still, Notre Dame was comfortably ahead nearly the entire game, so it's difficult to judge what its offensive effort showed. One area that is definitely improved for the Irish: pass protection. Last year's Notre Dame offensive line couldn't have posted two sack-free games against air. Michigan State (2-1) also played in lousy weather last week, and let Florida Atlantic hang around for a while before closing out a 17-0 win. If Sam McGuffie could put up 100-plus yards on the Notre Dame defense behind Michigan's paper-thin line, Javon Ringer should go for 200-plus. Let's just hope Michigan State can make plays, at least for the sake of a certain Detroit-area radio host.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Notre Dame (Fred Edelstein Lock) | RUSSELL: Michigan State
Note from Brian: "No homerism, I promise!"
With Oregon quarterbacks going the way of Spinal Tap drummers of late, this game has the potential to get interesting. The Ducks (3-0), who needed a huge comeback to win at Purdue in overtime, might not be as explosive with Jeremiah Masoli and true freshman Chris Harper under center. Boise State (2-0) still has Ian Johnson at tailback and looked sharp in a 20-7 win over a decent Bowling Green team. But they won't have the Kryptonite-like powers of the blue turf to protect them at Autzen Stadium.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Boise State | RUSSELL: Oregon
The SEC opener could well be a make-or-break game for the Vols (1-1), while Florida (2-0) has larger battles looming. While that might give Tennessee the emotional advantage, Florida has the talent edge, although the gap is probably closer than most people think. Or maybe Clay just has me convinced. In any case, I think Tennessee keeps this a close game into the fourth quarter by pounding the ball with Arian Foster. But in the end, it'll be too much Tebow, Harvin, et. al.: The Gators win it going away.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Tennessee | RUSSELL: Florida
The ongoing saga of Wake Forest (2-0), which has some 4,400 undergraduate students but is somehow able to compete at the highest level of college football, is one of the undertold stories of the sport. If Wake is able to keep this up -- remaining competitive for ACC titles -- the national coach of the year trophy should be renamed for Jim Grobe. Wake Forest is riding a two-game winning streak against the 'Noles, including a 30-0 smackdown in Tallahassee two years ago. FSU fans are cautiously optimistic after a 2-0 start, but this is the team's first real test. Wake Forest has Riley Skinner at quarterback, however, and that gives the Deacons the overall edge.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Wake Forest | RUSSELL: Wake Forest
It's not too early to say that this game could determine the SEC West. It's time for my national title pick (Auburn) to show some life on offense. Auburn (3-0) did everything but break out the mustard gas in its trench warfare-style, 3-2 win at Mississippi State last week. The much-balleyhooed switch to the spread hasn't produced much -- and now they get the LSU defense, a significant step up from Mississippi State. LSU (2-0) is still feeling its way on offense itself as it breaks in Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee at quarterback. Take the under.
THE PICKS -- FEI: LSU | RUSSELL: LSU
This game sure looked at lot more interesting two weeks ago, before Arizona State went out and lost at home to UNLV. But it's still an ultra-rare non-conference road trip that involves a plane flight for the Bulldogs, and comes after a spotty performance in a seven-point win over South Carolina. Look for Georgia's defensive front to beat up on the spotty Arizona State offensive line, while Knowshon Moreno pounds the Sun Devils into submission on offense.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Georgia | RUSSELL: Georgia (Edelstein Lock)
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||FEI Says||Russell Says|
|West Virginia||-3||Colorado||Colorado||West Virginia|
|Virginia Tech||+2||North Carolina||Virginia Tech||North Carolina|
|Notre Dame||+9||Michigan State||Notre Dame*||Michigan State|
|Boise State||+11||Oregon||Boise State||Oregon|
|Wake Forest||+4||Florida State||Wake Forest||Wake Forest|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
44 comments, Last at 22 Sep 2008, 2:39pm by witless chum