Thursday, November 03, 2005
THURSDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK
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A weekly primer.
SMQ Will Be Watching...
The Ol' Ball Coach, now with expectations!...Two fat coaches with teams - and careers - going in very different directions in South Bend...Two preseason also-rans slugging it out for the Big Ten title...Two preseason powers slugging it out for the ACC Whatever title in the Ugly Uniform Bowl.
Finally, We'll Learn About...
OREGON is not an upper-echelon team (it couldn't hang with Southern Cal, after all)...but what else is clear about this possible ten game winner? The Ducks have scored enough to beat a string of also-rans and worse, but Cal offers a clearer glimpse into UO's top ten potential.
PUT UP OR SHUT UP
On the Spot This Week
Things are crumbling around Phil Fulmer at TENNESSEE, and there couldn't be a much worse place for a preseason top five pick to be floundering than South Bend. Another loss - the fifth in a brutal seven-game stretch - will send shellshocked Vol fans into the November cupcakes like a crying child wrapping itself in a security blanket.
Vanderbilt, Kentucky, we've missed you so MUCH!
Most to Gain
PENN STATE had suffered through four losing seasons this decade and won seven games total the past two years; WISCONSIN was sending off its coach and replacing its entire defense and four-year star rusher from a team that lost its final three in 2004 - you had this Saturday's showdown circled in August as the de facto Big Ten title game, right?
Most to Lose
UCLA's most dramatic comeback yet has won over legions of doubters - including, to an extent, SMQ - and it would be a shame to blow a chance at major stakes and glory in one of the biggest games in school history against USC by dropping one to pesky and improving Arizona.
COVER YOUR EYES
Most Inevitable Blowout
Seven- and eight-touchdown wins in late October and November would usually be a reason to celebrate - unless, that is, you're LSU, and the fates have you following a 56-3 whacking of North Texas with I-AA Appalachian State.
I CAN HEAR THE CONCESSION STAND POPCORN POPPING FROM
Lame Game of the Week
When it's last place Florida Atlantic (1-7) visiting struggling Troy (3-5) with ambitions of moving into the middle of the Sun Belt pack, what else is left to say?
WE CAN REBUILD. WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY...
Bouncing Back This Week
Boston College: North Carolina's no pushover, but the Eagles smacked the Heels pretty hard in last year's Tire Bowl. Not the kind of team to drop one it shouldn't - though that's a tenuous distinction.
Minnesota: Indiana offer another slipping squad a chance to get its feet back. Minnesota fell to IU in 2004, too, diminishing any chance of overlooking the fast-fading Hoosiers.
Nebraska: If he can't get this team bowl eligible against Kansas, it's over for Bill Callahan. Or, it should be.
Virginia: Cavs get their kicks in against Temple: afterwards, it's Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami.
Clemson: Duke puts the Tigers in position to slip into a bowl entering their last two against FSU and South Carolina.
THE PICKS (ranking are SMQ's)
Game of the Century of the Week
#13 MIAMI at #3 VIRGINIA TECH
What's at Stake: Mucho BCS dinero. For all practical purposes, the championship of the ACC's Redundantly-titled Division. Biggest game of the season for both teams; Hokies are obviously in the mythical championship thick, Canes must win to remain a distant option should proverbial chips fall their way.
Miami Wants: Usual roles are reversed: the 'Canes come into this one seeking to play ball control and put the game on defense and special teams to keep the outcome out of the hands of a shaky young QB (Kyle Wright: three INTs against UNC last week) making his first major road start. Turnovers would be nice, but the defense is good enough to win it without them if it can do what BC couldn't: stuff the Hokie run to force obvious passing situations in which to make Mr. Vick very uncomfortable in the pocket - a task the 'Canes are a bit more equipped to handle. To prove SMQ is a dolt for dropping UM all the way to 13th.
Virginia Tech Wants: To keep the train rolling on offense following probably that unit's best performance of the season. BC was never able to get a bead on Vick because of Tech's ability to mix it up and go downfield successfully off play-action on first down. The guy is certainly dangerous, but again, Vick in the pocket=good execution. Vick running around=breakdown, holding of breath (for everyone).The idea of Kyle Wright having to pass his team back into the game, in the cold, lonely Blacksburg night, with a crazy crowd against him, must be Darryll Tapp's wet dream; can't come true if Tyrone Moss has any room to keep the chains moving early.
The Pick: Miami is Tech's equal on defense, but the Hokies are better off at quarterback and in the running game. They're also more experienced and at home on a cold night. Miami can match up for big play ability at wide out, but who's going to put their money on Wright here over Vick? Major statement game for Tech.
VIRGINIA TECH 26, MIAMI 16
BONUS Game of the Century of the Week
#11 WISCONSIN at #5 PENN STATE
What's at Stake: Barring unforeseen misfortune next week, only the Big Ten championship.
Wisconsin Wants: Contrary to popular opinion, the Badger offense is more than Brian Calhoun, though the more the ball is in the hands of the GTE (Greatest Transfer Ever, awarded with zero research - hit that 'Comment' button, naysayers!), the better. Presumably, Barry Alavarez is still into the cloud of dust, or of artificial rubber under-layering or whatever, but it's to his credit that the offense can adjust to track meet mode when necessary. Given the defense, it may be. Balance is key against a PSU defense that can get nasty without a serious passing threat.
Penn State Wants: The Lions' defense is more suited to a grinding, turnover-field position struggle, though this offense is on a roll against the weak sisters the past couple weeks, should its services be needed. PSU likely comes in with the Ohio State template - run, hold the ball, punt well - and opens it up a bit, a la the Minnesota game, if Wisconsin starts making some hay on the scoreboard.
The Pick: Two good, balanced, solid but unspectacular teams that do a lot of things well - both can score big, both can play defense and hang in tough slugfests. Should strike a balance between the two for one of the games of the year; SMQ will go crazy if stuck with the Florida State-NC State snoozer, a terrifying likelihood given local ABC affilliates' baffling affection for middling ACC games here. Oh, the pick: might be different if Derrick Williams were around, but SMQ will take Wisconsin, by a whisker, with a better running game and balance offensively.
WISCONSIN 23, PENN STATE 21
5-3 ATS, 60 PERCENT WHEN COMING OFF A LOSS AS DD HOME FAVE, IT'S SMQ's FIVE-STAR GOLDEN GUARANTEE BARKING DOG LOCK OF THE WEEK!
WAKE FOREST at #24 GEORGIA TECH
Tech hasn't been the same since that shellacking in Blacksburg, losing to NC State and beating Duke and, after a two-week layoff, Clemson in ho hum fashion. In the same span, the Deacons have beaten NC State and Clemson, played Florida State and especially Boston College tough and shellacked Duke; they are peaking. Wake may not be able to cover Calvin Johnson, but that hasn't stopped teams from taking down the Jackets before. Big scoring favors Chris Barclay and Co. as they angle for a bowl bid.
WAKE FOREST 30, GEORGIA TECH 26
#25 CALIFORNIA at #15 OREGON
For teams sitting at a combined 13-3 in a power league, we know little about these squads - except that both can score. Oregon couldn't hang with USC, no surprise, then wiped early darling Arizona State off the map in a win that looks far less impressive now than it did then. Cal faded to UCLA, which doesn't look nearly as bad now as it did then, and then blew the rebound to Washington State, which looks worse. When in doubt, take the team with two 100-yard-per-game rushers (Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett) and another (Marcus O'Keith) who'd join them given the opportunity.
CALIFORNIA 37, OREGON 31
IOWA at NORTHWESTERN
Night is beginning to fade on the Big Purple Bandwagon, which SMQ commissioned before the 'Cats' humiliation of Michigan State and immediately abandoned before their fruitless grasp at lasting pride against Michigan. On the upside, SMQ's video Wildcats have landed the nation's top recruiting class after an improbable late season rally to finish 7-5, and enter Year Three of the Dynasty on the precipice of Big Ten contenderdom. It is a model of success - drop the pretense of discipline and academics and shamelessly recruit thugs and partial qualifiers - from which the actual Wildcats could learn. Also, after Basanez graduates, Randy Walker should play a backup wide receiver at quarterback and run the option exclusively. Until then, Drew Tate has his way.
IOWA 35, NORTHWESTERN 24
COLORADO STATE at #22 TCU
While we're talking de facto conference championship games, don't forget the Mountain West: CSU is 4-1 in the league, which could give it a tiebreaker edge over 6-0 favorite TCU with San Diego State and UNLV left. The quietly rolling Frogs can wrap it up outright, and will - this is much the same team that dominated C-USA in 2002 and almost (if not for Southern Miss) again in '03 as youngsters, so conference titles and Liberty Bowls are not foreign.
TCU 33, COLORADO STATE 17
MISSOURI at #18 COLORADO
Brad Smith went from his superhuman performance against Nebraska, when his team scored 41 in a win, to a day on which his team scored a field goal in a loss to Kansas. Remember when that would have been the other way around, and made sense? (Where have you gone, Jaaaared To-o-mich, a nation turns its lonely eyes...) Anyway, Buffs right on track to lock up the Big XII North title and get pounded by Texas - again - for the league championship.
COLORADO 41, MISSOURI 28
TEXAS A&M at #21 TEXAS TECH
Ugh, these teams were promisingly even in the preseason, and now SMQ can hardly stand to look at either - the Raiders, especially, having achieved some status by stepping all over the little guy, particularly draw SMQ's ire. But A&M's defense is awful, so...
TEXAS TECH 38, TEXAS A&M 23
No SMQ Homerism this week, with the Golden Eagles off until Tuesday at Marshall. More on that contest when the occasion arises.
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If not, Troy Aikman had a pretty good career at UCLA after ditching Oklahoma.
And Randy Moss did a few things well at Marshall after leaving FSU.