Wednesday, October 05, 2005
THURSDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK
A Weekly Primer
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Due to some logistical issues – he's moving to his new house and job, where cable and internet hook-ups by the weekend are projected but uncertain – SMQ will have an interesting, probably limited viewing and posting weekend. He hopes this will be the last of the blog's hurricane-impacted bumps, that all will go as normally as possible, and that devoted, shrine-constructing readers will understand and not stalk him in the night if it does not.
SMQ Will Be Watching: The No. 2 team in the country muster all the chutzpah it can to prove it's not a 2-2 team's bitch...Tennessee patch itself up to get through its third killer conference throwdown in four weeks…Iowa and Purdue, teetering on the edge of the cliff of respectability, try to throw the other off...Penn State's "revamped" offense against a Big Ten defense worth a damn or two...Oregon and Arizona State, because they're on late.
They don't play Michigan or Ohio State? They're gonna make it!
Finally, We'll Learn About...
Georgia, Texas Tech and Cal have been taking 2005 easy with what Brian would call "functional DNPs" (combined opponents' records: 17-42, none above .500) but face a wake-up bomb Saturday, going to Tennessee and Nebraska and hosting undefeated UCLA, respectively. For Georgia, it's about proving the Dogs' worth as an SEC title contender; for Tech, about giving itself a shot against the big boys of a drooping league later on; Cal gets its first real chance to assess 2004 as the start of a trend or as a once-a-generation fluke. For all three, it's about justifying the hype for the first time this season.
Put Up or Shut Up
Yeah, yeah, Texas, SMQ understands: you'd rather the Sooners be undefeated, to become a great team by overcoming a great team instead of just kicking the old nemesis when he's down. But given the history here - that is, 63-14, 14-3, 35-24, 65-13, 12-0 - take what you can get. 'Cause if Mack Brown's bunch can't get it here, with the Sooners starting a redshirt freshman quarterback with a spinning head and scattershot arm, a banged-up, under-performing superstar, a couple freshman wide outs and maybe two people you've heard of on defense (the one with the hair who was suspended last year and the one with the cool name, and he's a backup). If not now...
Most to Gain
Hands up, everyone who really, really believes in Penn State after that drubbing of Minnesota last week. Didn't think so. The Lions certainly showed themselves to be better than the last two years - and to have a pulse on offense - but it will take the same kind of show to get by Ohio State before PSU can start talking about a Big Ten title.
Most to Lose
In Mack Brown's case - fair or not - Saturday could be for his job. Not to dwell on this Texas-Oklahoma thing, but the Longhorns need to win. Bad.
Weird Line of the Week
Central Florida failed to win at all last year and the Knights' current two-game win streak is a feast of close wins over the likes of Marshall and U of L of Lafayette. Memphis was a 2004 bowl team, returns one of the top five running backs in the country and beat C-USA West favorite UTEP last week. And the Tigers are only 2 1/2-point favorites?
HONEY, GRAB THE TICKETS...AND A BOOK TO READ DURING THE SECOND HALF
Lame Game of the Week
Central Michigan beat Miami, Ohio, by a point. Army almost upset Iowa State. Sounds like a classic to SMQ!
Navy? No, the Cadets are gearing up for a "classic" tilt with the Chippewas
Inevitable Blowout of the Week
In physics, the force of a collision (v) between two objects (P1i and P2i) is the result of the mass of each object (m1 and m2) and the velocity of each object at the time of the collision (v1 and v2), as expressed in the equation,v1f=(m1-m2/m1+m2)v1i+(2m2/m1+m2)v2i. In the case of the young scholars of Duke against the future inmates of Miami, it might look something like this.
WE CAN REBUILD. WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY...
Bouncing Back This Week...
FLORIDA: As far as SMQ can tell from the Alabama and Tennessee games, that "revolutionary" offense consists of merely running a regular vanilla scheme, except with the quarterback in the shotgun and the fullback motioning in from the slot for obvious lead blocks. Not a problem for the Crimson Tide, but good enough to beat Mississippi State.
TOLEDO: There is no line on the Rockets big tilt with temporary MAC West leader Eastern Michigan, who may be getting too much credit from gamblers for beating Central Michigan and Kent State. Bruce Gradkowski, on pace for his best season yet, puts the Eagles in their place after falling hard to Fresno State.
ARIZONA STATE: The Sun Devils haven't proven to be worth a whole lot on defense or with a lead against a decent team, but the offense has too many weapons to keep down (Sam Keller and Derek Hagan may get their own weekly press conferences, usually reserved only for coaches, but is anyone else noticing the other Jamaal Lewis, who's just a freak of a tight end?). Reminds SMQ of last year's Cal team in many ways, and Oregon reminds him of, well, Oregon.
IOWA STATE: At 0-1 in the league, it's a good time for a team still harboring division title aspirations to be playing Baylor, though those Bears are feisty.
LAURENCE MARONEY: Not Minnesota, mind you, but Maroney, who was held to 48 yards against Penn State. Michigan won't be an easier day for the Gophers as a team, but the Wolverines have given up yards to decent backs: 148 to Garrett Wolfe, 104 to Darius Walker, 155 to Brian Calhoun and 173 against Michigan State's stable. No. 22 is too legit to be stuffed for the second straight week, though Cupito will have to display some passing prowess to open things up for his stud.
FIRST THE SAINTS, THEN TULANE...WHAT NEXT, MARDI GRAS IN JACKSONVILLE?
Outrage of the Week
Ever see that movie The Good Son starring Macauley Culkin as Elijah Wood's psychotic but cunning, favored and charmed step-brother, and Wood was left feeling hopeless and disillusioned at his evil sibling's good fortune? That's how New Orleanians felt when they heard arch-nemesis Atlanta - the "good" Southern city - will host this year's Sugar Bowl.
THE PICKS (rankings are SMQ's)
Game of the Week
#7 GEORGIA at #10 TENNESSEE
What's At Stake: Despite Tennessee's earlier loss to Florida, the Gators' uncertain status probably makes the winner here the SEC East favorite.
Georgia Wants: To get its super-soph ground combo, Danny Ware and Thomas Brown, going early. D.J. Shockley can make plays with his legs, but relying exclusively on his ad lib ability is not preferred. Nor is trying to throw the ball to unproven young receivers whose contributions against Boise State will matter little here if there's no running game to back them up. If Erik Ainge has to play at all, blitz the hell out of him every play. If it's Rick Clausen, play more conservatively. Either way, focus on Gerald Riggs.
Tennessee Wants: To keep Erik Ainge on the bench. Your time will come, young Ainge, and that time is against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but Casey, er, Rick Clausen - bruised elbow or foot or shoulder or whatever, even concussed - is the man the Vols want on the field against the same kind of aggressive defense that LSU used to pummel Ainge and vault the obvious-blitz-recognizing Clausen to hero status. Establishing Gerald Riggs, though, is offensive priority number one. The more D.J. Shockely has to do with his arm, the better for the Vol defense. With Florida and LSU behind them and Alabama coming up following a bye week, keeping hope alive to come out of this brutal six-week span with only one loss would be BCS-worthy.
The Pick: Obviously, we're not talking future NFL gunslingers from the PAC Ten running these offenses, so SMQ goes old school: the team that controls the line of scrimmage and runs the ball most effectively will win. Both teams have lines on both sides that are deep, talented and experienced. So if line play is a wash, SMQ goes to the next indicators: most experienced quarterback? Push (Clausen is a fifth-year senior, but hasn't played any more than Shockley). Running backs? Push (Riggs is the best on the field, but Georgia has unreal depth). Kicking game? Advantage: Tennessee (miscues at Florida notwithstanding). And at home, with one big, tough win already under their belt, that'll be the tiny little eke of an edge the Vols need.
TENNESSEE 23, GEORGIA 20
A sight for sore Volunteer eyes Saturday: Erik Ainge cheers on Rick Clausen
Upset of the Week
#23 OKLAHOMA vs. #3 TEXAS
What's At Stake: Title of conference big shot, which still belongs to Oklahoma until Texas takes it away. For Mack Brown, maybe his job. The sanity and dignity of Austin-based mega school fans everywhere.
Oklahoma Wants: To run and run and run and run and run, and run again. If Rhett Bomar doesn't have to throw a pass, he shouldn't. Texas couldn't tackle Adrian Peterson last year and lost its best defensive player; make the Longhorns handle No. 28 every play as long the game is within reach. Vince Young has not proven to this team the last two years his arm should be respected - crowd the line, keep contain, and make Young throw.
Texas Wants: To keep their drawers clean and show right out of the gate that this is their year, no sweat. Run Jamaal Charles. Get Vince Young running around as often as possible, doing his sandlot Vick stuff against an Oklahoma defense that looks far less athletic than at any other time in the past five years. Load up for Adrian Peterson, maybe send him limping off, and make Rhett Bomar and those freshman receivers beat you.
The Pick: On paper, yeah, Texas is clearly the better team. But that's been true before, and SMQ thinks the Longhorns' complete failure to even be very competitive with Oklahoma throughout the decade has left psychological scars on the program unparalleled in any other major CFB rivalry. The UT offense has been uncreative and ultra-reliant on Young's legs, which Oklahoma has excelled at keying and corralling, and the Longhorns don't look to be doing anything discernibly different entering this game. Bottom line, "to be the man, you've got to beat the man," and SMQ has said it before: he'll believe Texas can beat Oklahoma when he sees it.
OKLAHOMA 17, TEXAS 13
Oklahoma to Texas: Woooooooo!
#6 OHIO STATE at #17 PENN STATE
We all should have known Minnesota was going to tank it on the road, but that doesn't diminish the great performance of Penn State, who if nothing else established that the 2003 and 2004 teams were the aberrations, not the trend-setters. A little bit different story this week against Ohio State, though, whose defense is an eensy bit better than the Gophers'. SMQ likes the Buckeye's offense, too, when it spreads the field with those vertical threats (Ginn and Holmes) and clears running lanes for Troy Smith.
The Pick:JoPa can run out all the reverses and tricky stuff with top recruits he wants; can the Lions line up run for three yards against Ohio State on third-and-two? No? Forget it.
OHIO STATE 24, PENN STATE 13
#11 CALIFORNIA at #21 UCLA
SMQ still knows little about UCLA, who smashed Oklahoma but had a harder time dealing with Washington. And no one knows anything about Cal yet, unless they are willing to draw conclusions from Arizona and New Mexico State film. One amazing statistical note: the Bears, supposedly one of these sophisticated West Coast passing teams, have two players, Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch, averaging more than 100 yards per game and another, Marcus O'Keith, who averages 79 per game and almost 12 yards per carry. Mmm, that's good rushing. Oh, and they still average about 200 passing, too.
CAL 34, UCLA 21
IOWA at PURDUE
By Sunday, one of these teams will be breathing a sigh of relief for its bowl hopes while the other looks with gloom at a possible ninth-place finish. So far, Iowa's tanked two big road games, whilst Purdue has only blown one on their home field. Um, advantage, such as it were, Boilermakers.
PURDUE 26, IOWA 20
N.C. STATE at #24 GEORGIA TECH
Finally, a weekday night matchup someone might actually watch were it played on Saturday, though N.C. State is on the cusp of "most overrated" in the ACC after losing to North Carolina and will take the mid-season title if it falls to 1-3 tonight. Negative 73-yard rushing performance not withstanding, Jay Davis has been better than expected for the Pack, and the defense that played well against Virginia Tech is presumably better than what it showed in giving up 31 points to the Tar Heels. Of course, the Tar Heels had no Calvin Johnson, no P.J. Daniels, and no seven-game home win streak against the Pack.
GEORGIA TECH 24, NC STATE 16
VIRGINIA at #19 BOSTON COLLEGE
The Eagles are slowly, slowly but surely making some inroads towards a quietly big year in their ACC debut, and Virginia will offer essentially the same kind of test as Clemson, which BC needed overtime to take out 16-13 three weeks ago. Virginia, meanwhile, gave up 45 to offensively-challenged Maryland. SMQ, however, sees in the middle of the ACC an astounding equilibrium among BC, Virginia, Clemson, Maryland, N.C. State and Georgia Tech: you win some, you lose some. Equilibrium's a bitch, for BC this week, at least.
VIRGINIA 26, BOSTON COLLEGE 24
#13 LSU at VANDERBILT
Oh, Vandy, this game could have meant so much for you, for the program. Think of what entering the LSU game with the chance to actually become bowl-eligible in early October could have done for your confidence. And in Nashville? Oh, the stage was set, Vandy, the props were being rolled out for "Scrappy, Academic-Oriented Underdog Proves Itself With Gutsy Showing Against Football-Factory Behemoth," a la Northwestern-Michigan in 1995, the wildest atmosphere your football program had seen in decades. And then you had to lose to Middle Tennessee State.
LSU 38, VANDERBILT 17
TEXAS TECH at #22 NEBRASKA
Nebraska, courtesy of its win over a legitimate Big XII bowl team last week and its skin-of-the-teeth edge over a 2004 BCS participant two weeks ago, has the better resume, and the revenge thing going for it after last year's unholy 70-10 slaughter in Lubbock. Plus, they'll be at home. But damn, SMQ is supposed to pick the team that lost by 60 points the last time these two saw each other? Uh, no.
TEXAS TECH 31, NEBRASKA 21
#25 OREGON at #15 ARIZONA STATE
The measuring stick here, obviously, is USC, since both of these teams coasted on hype, hometown, this-is-our-Super-Bowl emotion and Trojan distraction with celebrity girlfriends to big first half leads before getting steamrolled when SC remembered it was participating in a sporting contest. Arizona State coasted further and was steamrolled a bit less. Very similar teams, with explosive offenses centered around good quarterback play and excellent skill players everywhere, but the Devils have the edge at QB (assuming Keller's pick problems were primarily USC's doing) and in depth of targets. Plus, home field, which may be the most overrated advantage in sports, but is still an advantage, SMQ supposes.
ARIZONA STATE 41, OREGON 30
TEXAS A&M at COLORADO
The Aggies have beaten Texas State and Baylor the last two weeks by a combined total of 16 points. That's, uh, Texas State and Baylor. Colorado, meanwhile, recorded its second shutout of the year against Oklahoma State, 35-0.
COLORADO 27, TEXAS A&M 17
TCU at WYOMING
Horned Frogs: winners of three straight in the league and four of five overall, including wins over two of 2004's top five, Oklahoma and Utah. Dispensed with serious MWC challenger New Mexico by three touchdowns last week. Cowboys: winners of four straight since dropping the opener to Florida, including a dismantling of another SEC school, Ole Miss, in Laramie. Winner is in the Mountain West captain's chair.
TCU 34, WYOMING 31
SMQ HOMERISM: TULSA at SOUTHERN MISS
SMQ was needlessly worried about the Eagles' lack of playing time last week against East Carolina, which was only happy to oblige USM's need to begin an uninterrupted, Hurricane-necessitated nine-week marathon with a hapless cupcake (three lost fumbles on ECU's first three possessions, five total ECU giveaways). He's similarly concerned about the Golden Hurricane this Saturday, and hopes the fretting is equally unjustified as last week's.
Tulsa, you may remember, had an advantage over Oklahoma into the third quarter, but has less notably blasted perennial Sun Belt champ North Texas 54-2 on the road and beaten Memphis in overtime. There's also the issue of star tight end Garrett Mills and Ashlan Davis, who returned an NCAA-record five kickoff returns for touchdowns last year and has been waitin', wantin', wishin' for a chance to bust one this year (he's averaging a little over 21 yards on 13 returns).
Of course, one of the reasons Davis returned so many kicks for scores is because he had so many opportunities, and the defense is, statistically, equally bad this year. One could argue that the No. 109 ranking in rush defense (226.6 allowed per game) is misleading due to the ridiculously high quality of backs Tulsa has faced this early season, but one would be ignoring that Laurence Maroney, Adrian Peterson and DeAngelo Williams each had his big, headline-grabbing day against the 'Canes, all going over 200 yards easily, and also that slumping former rushing champ Patrick Cobbs of North Texas had 100 and Houston's very average Ryan Gilbert had 134 in the Cougars' win over Tulsa last week, to make such a point. The Eagles' combo of Cody Hull and Larry Thomas has turned it on since the team's embarassing nine-yard rushing performance at Alabama and should be able to control the ball and the clock against a very porous unit. If that success sets up Dustin Almond and the surprisingly effective passing game, Tulsa won't be able to keep up against the best defense it will face this side of Oklahoma.
The Pick: Eagles run it, Eagles throw it, Eagles win it. Another rather ho hum victory over a subpar whipping boy, SMQ predicts, but under the circumstances (home conference opener; just the second home game period), that will do.
SOUTHERN MISS 33, TULSA 16
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