Offensive line problems highlight the needs in the NFC North ... except in Chicago, which is kind of unsettling to think about.
12 Nov 2009
by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Rob Weintraub
This week is all about the new-school rivalry. After dealing with Nebraska-Oklahoma, Navy-Notre Dame, and LSU-Alabama a week ago, we're looking at some games this week that are equally intriguing but not nearly as historically grounded. West Virginia represents one of Cincinnati's last two major challenges (the other being Pittsburgh), a confident Stanford squad tries to knock off USC in The Coliseum once again, Utah and TCU welcome ESPN "College GameDay" to Fort Worth, and The Wannstache's Panthers attempt to officially stick the dagger into the Charlie Weis Era.
(Teams are listed according to BCS ranking.)
Do you remember at the beginning of the season when no Big East teams were ranked? There are four Big East teams in the current BCS standings, and more than half the league is receiving votes in the current Associated Press poll. Rutgers is the quietest 6-2 team ever -- their road to bowl eligibility has been paved by five teams that have six FBS wins combined: Howard, Texas Southern, Army, Maryland and Florida International. South Florida has knocked off Florida State and West Virginia but is still seeking some consistency, especially with quarterback B.J. Daniels, who has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes against FBS opposition. The Scarlet Knights don't do much particularly well, though their defense and special teams have chipped in five non-garbage touchdowns on the season, tied for fourth most nationally.
The Picks -- Rob: USF | FEI: USF | S&P+: USF (LOCK)
Whoever is in charge of scheduling in the Big East deserves a raise. For several years now, it seems the end of the Big East conference season features several of its most marquee games, and this year is no different. Over the final month, the top three teams in the Big East -- Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia will play a round robin for the conference crown while most of the other conference's top games are in their rearview mirror. The Mountaineers are probably the weakest of the three. WVU running back Noel Devine (1,010 yards, 10 touchdowns) may be the most explosive player in the conference, although Bearcats receiver Mardy Gilyard shows up more consistently. Zach Collaros will get the start at quarterback for Cincinnati, and Tony Pike will likely see action as well. Each has been fantastic leading the most efficient attack in the country.
The Picks -- Rob: WVU | FEI: Cincy (LOCK) | S&P+: Cincy
Congratulations, Nick Florence. You are a redshirt freshman tasked with replacing the electric (and injured) Robert Griffin as Baylor's starting quarterback, and you were flawless against Missouri Saturday. You threaded the needle on the short passes, you hit receivers in stride on the deep balls. You were magnificent. Your reward? Taking on the Texas defense.
How good is the Longhorns' defense? Only first in rushing defense and total defense, third in scoring, and fifth in passing efficiency defense. While Texas quarterback Colt McCoy may have taken a while to get into a rhythm this year (and even now, Texas' offense isn't quite as fluid as last year, looking great one week and only above average the next), the defense has been outstanding. McCoy will probably lead Texas to at least 28-38 points on Saturday. Can you do the same, Mr. Florence?
The Picks -- Rob: Texas | FEI: Texas | S&P+: Baylor
So USC has been the king of the Pac-10 since roughly the Woodrow Wilson administration, but when Oregon whipped them in Eugene two weeks ago, it was the succession of the throne, right? Oregon was ready to rule ... and then they got tripped up by a dominant, physical Stanford offense. With a 51-42 win over the Ducks, the Cardinal have caused an awesome logjam in the Pac-10. Five teams have lost either one or two games in conference, and we could be in for quite the entertaining final month of play. This is Stanford's first trip back to L.A. Coliseum since their historic upset of the Trojans in 2007 (they are not 40-point underdogs this time around), and an upset here would all but eliminate USC (again) from the title race, meaning either Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State, or Stanford would be the favorites. With Andrew Luck averaging almost 10 yards per pass and unlikely Heisman contender (hey, why not?) Toby Gerhart averaging an old-school, Jerome Bettis-like 26 carries and 135 yards per game, the Stanford offense is both unique and dangerous, and they could present yet another unique challenge for the Trojans' defense.
The Picks -- Rob: Stanford | FEI: Stanford | S&P+: Stanford
Things can change in a flash in college football. Six days ago, Iowa was supposed to be knocking on the door of the BCS title game, and the Buckeyes were bracing for a second-rate December bowl bid. By Saturday afternoon, Ricky Stanzi was out for the season, Terrelle Pryor helped take care of business on the road against Penn State, and Ohio State found itself in the driver's seat for the Big Ten crown. And they'll be big favorites in each of their final games of the season, to boot. This one will have to be all about the defenses if Iowa wants to keep it within reach. The two teams reside in the top 15 in scoring and total defense, and each is among the top six in Defensive FEI. Get the place kickers warmed up -- both teams are in the top 15 in attempts per game already and will likely be called on often in the ‘Shoe.
The Picks -- Rob: Ohio St. | FEI: Iowa | S&P+: Iowa
Seldom will you see a team that has won 19 consecutive games be as picked apart by its own supporters as Florida. While the Tim Tebow-led offense has been something short of inspirational, the defense continues to inspire awe, giving up the fewest points in the nation (10.1 per game), and there's little reason to think South Carolina will be the team to unlock the Gators, even with Steve Spurrier vowing to call more plays. The Gamecocks were horrid at Arkansas Saturday, and assuming freshman sensation Alshon Jeffrey gets extra attention from Florida's superb secondary, USC will have few options left in the arsenal. Urban Meyer, in defending his team after the lackluster win over Vandy last week, actually said, "I don't ever want to take anything away from what those cats have done." If he works really hard, Meyer should have his hip-hop patois sharpened by the time the Gators play for another BCS championship in January.
The Picks -- Rob: Florida | FEI: Florida | S&P+: Florida
What is this? Boise State has to take a timeout from the national title hunt to defend their home-state superiority? Do we have an honest-to-God Potato State rivalry on our hands? Idaho is 7-3 and in possession of the best stable of awesomely-named running backs you didn't know existed (DeMaundray Woolridge, Princeton McCarty, and Deonte' Jackson have combined for 1,536 yards and 18 touchdowns). They will be going bowling for the first time since 1998 and the second time ever. Can they hang with the big boys from the blue field in Boise? Probably not. Sorry. Since reaching bowl eligibility, the Vandals' defense has regressed, to say the very least, giving up 135 points and 1,549 yards in three games against Nevada (who accounted for 70 of those points), Louisiana Tech and Fresno State. Boise State, meanwhile, has scored at least 45 points in six of nine games this season. The Broncos should comfortably move to 10-0 on the season, but you never know what may happen with those crazy in-state rivalries.
The Picks -- Rob: Idaho | FEI: BSU | S&P+: BSU
Aggravated with his undisciplined bunch, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt says he will bench any player who commits a penalty Saturday. That should be interesting if, say, A.J. Green (who says he is over his bruised lung), pushes off to get open on the first play of the game. Richt has to do something urgent -- he needs to win two of the last three to become bowl eligible. With rampaging rival Georgia Tech as the season finale, it would behoove the Dawgs to win against another bitter rival, Auburn, this week. Unfortunately for UGA, the road team has been quite successful in the series of late, winning nine of the last 14. Both schools plastered overmatched foes last week, allowing some ill tidings from see-saw campaigns to subside slightly. Auburn's offense is the best of the units, UGA's defense the worst, so the 113th meeting between the schools should be decided when the Tigers have the ball.
The Picks -- Rob: Auburn | FEI: Auburn | S&P+: Georgia
Last season, the Frogs came ever so close to ruining Utah's dream season, dominating the game in Salt Lake but failing to salt the game away. Utah scored with less than a minute to play to win 13-10. Now the shoe is on the other (webbed) foot. The Utes are an extremely quiet 8-1, with a sole loss to Oregon. But there are qyarterback issues -- struggling starter Terrance Cain was replaced two weeks ago by freshman Jordan Wynn. Wynn has looked good, but now steps up considerably in class -- TCU's defense is ranked third in the nation in yards allowed, and has given up only 25 points in the last four games. Unlike previous seasons, TCU's offense is matching the defense in production. They've rolled up nearly 460 yards per game under the direction of quarterback Andy Dalton, whose touchdown-to-interception ratio is a sterling 16-3. This shapes up as the final hurdle for another unbeaten Mountain West team, and even the fickle Ft. Worth fans have taken notice -- this will be the first sellout at Amon Carter Stadium since 2006.
The Picks -- Rob: TCU | FEI: TCU | S&P+: TCU
The words "hot seat" get thrown around a lot in college football circles, and in South Bend the burner knobs go to 11. You know things are bad when the ABC promotional campaign for the game is completely centered on not missing a second of the inevitable carnage. The Fighting Irish offense rolled between the 20s against Navy last week, but five cataclysmic red zone failures doomed the effort (three turnovers and a turnover on downs inside the 5-yard line) and set the stage for Charlie Weis' last stand. Navy romped for nearly 350 yards on the ground against the Irish, and Pittsburgh's rushing attack must be licking their chops. They are led by freshman Dion Lewis who ranks in the top 10 nationally in yards (1139), touchdowns (12) and attempts per game (22.6).
The Picks -- Rob: Pitt (LOCK) | FEI: Pitt | S&P+: ND
Rob Weintraub: Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, it's the annual Can-Charlie-Weis moment in South Bend. This time, on the heels of a second consecutive home loss to Navy (if only Weis was sacked on Veteran's Day -- alas), Weis may not survive. But loathe as I am to defend the arrogant Sir Charles, there is a reality the Irish and their mouthy alumni need to accept -- the days of yearly dominance by ND are likely gone. And that's not a sop to the "rigid academic standards" that Irish apologists like to toss out -- Stanford doesn't seem to be having much difficulty this season. But we are in the midst of a generation-long migration of power southward. A small, religious-based campus in a frigid locale is behind the eight-ball in recruiting against the "sunshine schools." Once, the national reach and unlimited TV access of Notre Dame outweighed that, but now Southern Mississippi is on TV as often as the Irish. Charlie can blame ESPN on the way out the door if he likes, and he won't be wrong. But hiring Paul Johnson or John Harbaugh or Ara Parseghian's ghost won't change the basics of weather. Notre Dame's era of uniqueness is gone, and it ain't coming back.
Brian Fremeau: Ouch, Rob. As a Notre Dame fan, things are feeling a bit ... calamitous right now, so I'm going to try and focus on other, happier thoughts in college football. Maybe your team isn't having the season you were hoping for either, and you're looking for hope elsewhere. Well look no further than the potentially bowl-bound Duke, Idaho, and Temple. They held three of the four worst records in college football over the previous six seasons, but all that's ancient history as far as their fan bases are concerned. Idaho (at Boise State) and Duke (at Georgia Tech) are big underdogs this week, but regardless of the outcome, I'll be tuning in for the stretch run. With the right coach in the right moment, turnarounds are possible at even the most unlikely places.
Bill Connelly: Did you know that Duke can still win the ACC, Kansas State the Big 12, Oregon State the Pac-10, Wisconsin the Big Ten, and Pittsburgh the Big East? Not that any of those things are actually going to happen, but this season has been the strangest mix of ridiculously predictable (we're still looking at the Texas vs. Florida/Alabama national title game that many predicted when the season started) and insane (injuries and slumps have derailed what was seemingly a cut-and-dried Tebow vs. McCoy vs. Bradford Heisman race, plus ... hello? Cincinnati and Iowa took undefeated records into November!), and while things could still go according to plan in the most boring way possible, there is this undercurrent of crazy lingering. As a fan of a team other than Florida, Alabama, and Texas, I say ... Bring on the crazy. Let South Carolina beat Florida, Auburn beat Alabama, and Texas A&M (and Kansas State) beat Texas. Let Duke strike up the most unlikely November streak of all-time. Give me a Boise-TCU national title game! Or let's at least let one crazy scenario play out.
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Iowa||+17||Ohio State||Ohio St.||Iowa||Iowa|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
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22 comments, Last at 14 Nov 2009, 3:12pm by CuseFanInSoCal