Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
21 Aug 2005
by Russell Levine
The Big House season tickets arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, and with them the harsh reality that college football season was right around the corner.
Wait a minute, harsh reality? Not joyous realization?
Allow me to explain. It seems the arrival of college football season has caught me a bit off guard this year. I've spent so much time this spring working on Pro Football Prospectus, our draft coverage for the New York Sun, and things like Four Downs, that I allowed the beginning of on campus fall practices to creep up on me.
I found myself suddenly staring down deadlines for the debut of Junkie, my Sun season preview material, and our college picks column, Seventh Day Adventure, and I must admit, I wasn't ready. Did I really sign up to take part in mgoblog's first-annual BlogPoll (more on that below)? Did I really commit to writing twice a week for the Sun, twice for FO, holding down a day job and keeping my sanity?
Who am I kidding? It's football season, and all that simply allows me to commandeer the remote for Tuesday night college football on ESPN without impunity in my house. Honey, I'm a professional writer now, remember? At least the IRS seemed to accept the argument when I submitted my deductions for ESPN GamePlan and NFL Sunday Ticket.
But once those tickets arrived, I got ready in a hurry. The flight was booked for the annual road trip. An entire fall of commitment-free weekends was blocked off the family calendar. My son's fifth birthday party was pushed to the Saturday when Michigan plays Eastern Michigan, not Notre Dame (his actual birthday is closer to the former game, and besides, I'll be in Ann Arbor for the latter).
I'm trying to take a different approach towards Michigan this fall. As a Michigan fan, I realize I have little right to complain compared to the bevy of college programs. Back-to-back Rose Bowls (which yielded two losses), a national title within the last 10 years, and eight straight New Year's Day bowl bids, including three Rose Bowls and an Orange Bowl.
But recent Michigan seasons have had sort of a Groundhog Day storyline. High preseason rankings (this year, fourth in both polls), followed by an impressive debut, followed by a crushing, non-conference road loss that usually includes some sort of Titanic-scale special teams disaster. With that loss, title hopes (at least the national title variety) are often largely dashed before the first conference game of the year.
Recent years have also included some disturbing conference defeats, most notably three losses to Ohio State in four seasons. If the Buckeyes win in Ann Arbor this November, Lloyd Carr will officially be Jim Tressel's you-know-what.
So this year, I'm not doing it. I'm not getting sucked into the hype. I'm not allowing myself to believe the regular shredding of the Wolverine defense over the second half of last season was miraculously cured over the summer. I won't accept that Braylon Edwards's departure won't cost Michigan a game somewhere along the line.
Nope, I'm keeping things reasonable. Michigan feels like a 9-2 team to me. If it beats Notre Dame and Ohio State at home and Michigan State on the road, I can live with pretty much whatever else happens, like a road loss at Iowa, Wisconsin, or Minnesota.
Pundits seem to agree that the Big Ten is as strong as it has been in recent years, but they're split as to the premier team. Michigan has the best offense. Ohio State the best defense. Iowa has the best coach. Purdue has the best schedule. This is the year JoePa finally gets it turned around at State College.
When I look at the Big Ten, I see a conference that's deeper than it has been in many years. A BCS or even Rose Bowl berth (yes, this is the one year in four that the Rose hosts the championship game, a cringe-inflicting event for all college football purists) from any of the big three (Iowa, Michigan, or Ohio State) wouldn't shock anyone, and a lot of people are looking at Purdue as having 2004 Auburn "out of nowhere" potential.
The 2005 season feels like a more wide-open race than any in recent memory. There's a clear-cut No. 1 -- USC -- and then the questions begin. Coming off Vince Young's "Michael Vick in the 2000 Sugar Bowl" impersonation in Texas's Rose Bowl win over some team in funny helmets, the Longhorns are No. 2 in both polls and even managed a handfull of first-place votes in each. Apparently, Mack Brown's shameless pollster begging carried over to the preseason poll.
The usual casts of characters -- Florida, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, et al -- are all in the mix for that No. 2 spot, it seems. It should be a fun year, especially with some tremendous early season non-conference games to get things started.
I love the fact that the NFL has abandoned Labor Day weekend due to poor TV ratings, leaving a five-day college festival to kick off the season. Other than Miami at Florida State on Monday night, September 5, the schedule is not loaded with great games, but I still expect to log some time in front of the TV every day, starting with Steve Spurrier's South Carolina debut on Thursday night. Other games to watch include Arizona-Utah on Friday, Miami (Ohio)-Ohio State, Bowling Green-Wisconsin, and Boise State-Georgia on Saturday, and Virginia Tech-N.C. State on Sunday. Let's hope the Atlantic Hurricane season doesn't disrupt the fun the way it did last year.
Since my full college preview will debut next week -- after it has run in the Sun -- I will spend some time running down my editorial plans for Football Outsiders for the season. Following next Monday's college preview, Seventh Day Adventure will make its debut on Thursday, Sept. 1 -- opening day of the college football season. Vinny and I will once again offer our fearless college predictions. Actually, if you follow our advice, you should be very afraid. I'd like to remind everyone I did have a 9-7 mark (good enough to win the NFC West!) on my Fred Edelstein Locks, however.
You'll also notice my ballot for the BlogPoll below. The BlogPoll is an excellent idea, which naturally has sprung from the mind of a Michigan grad, Brian Cook of mgoblog. I'll let him describe it: "It's a college football poll run and voted on by sports bloggers. No fooling! The goal of the BlogPoll is to collect information from a slew of different eyes and compile it into a poll more just and accurate than the AP or coaches poll."
And in the interests of full disclosure, I'll make my ballot public in Junkie each week. Feel free to comment, criticize or upbraid me as you see fit.
Here are some other highlights of the coming season:
That's a little bit of what you have to look forward to this season. What am I looking forward to? Any college fan can worth his salt can come up with Army-Navy, Howard's Rock, the Iron Bowl or Chief Osceola. Here's a partial list of what I expect will be some of the more arcane pleasures this year's college season:
Junkie readers know that the "Mike Martz Award" was a weekly staple, awarded to the coach who made the shakiest decision of the previous week, in honor of the Rams' unconventional leader.
It's time for a new name.
Thanks to a compelling essay by Jason McKinley in Pro Football Prospectus 2005 called "In Defense of Mike Martz," I realize I've been to harsh on Mike. So, I'm going to re-name the award. But who should get the honor? Bruce Coslet? Rich Kotite? I'm open to suggestions. Feel free to post them in the comments.
1. USC -- Duh.
2. LSU -- Schedule gives them the edge in the SEC.
3. Texas -- It'll take more than the Rose Bowl win to convince me they're ready to beat Oklahoma.
4. Oklahoma -- Write them off at your own risk.
5. Tennessee -- Back-to-back September road games at Florida and LSU will make or break the Vols.
6. Virginia Tech -- Can Ron Mexico's little brother stay away from the jailbait?
7. Miami (Florida) -- Fast start (at FSU, at Clemson, vs. Colorado) should put them 8-0 going to VaTech in November.
8. Michigan -- Too many defensive holes emerge from tough Big Ten unscathed.
9. Florida -- Urban's first job: teach Chris Leak some mechanics.
10. Ohio State -- Comparisons to 2002 national champs are premature.
11. Iowa -- Scary good LBs, QB, but tough roadies at Ohio State, Purdue await.
12. Georgia -- Team has "Tennessee in 1998" feel to it.
13. Auburn -- Lots of losses on O, but defense is still stout.
14. Texas A&M -- Aggies ready to challenge in year three of Franchione era.
15. Louisville -- Brian Brohm-led offense should pile up points, wins in a joke of a conference.
16. Cal -- Marshawn Lynch ready to make everyone forget J.J. Arrington.
17. Boise State -- September 10 Smurf Turf date vs. Bowling Green could be mid-major Game of the Year.
18. Florida State -- 2005's Team Turmoil has a lot to overcome, but gets Miami at home to open the year.
19. Purdue -- Everyone's favorite sleeper. Schedule Gods were kind, but Orton loss is huge.
20. Texas Tech -- Voted "team most likely to have both a 50-point win and a 50-point loss."
21. Virginia -- Cavs might have best OT (D'Brickashaw Ferguson) and LB (Ahmad Brooks) in the country.
22. Arizona State -- Sam Keller's warming up the arm.
23. Fresno State -- Is this the year they finally beat Boise?
24. Pittsburgh -- Wannstedt won't be Pete Carroll, but he won't be Rich Brooks-at-Kentucky either.
25. Bowling Green -- Omar Jacobs gets plenty of face time in September roadies to Wisconsin, Boise.
50 comments, Last at 27 Aug 2005, 7:53pm by Tarrant